Missouri Senate leader remains positive after heated critical race theory debate

(The Center Square) – The leader of Missouri’s senators believes they’re collegial and moving forward, even though two senators were gaveled during a heated exchange on a bill prohibiting critical race theory.

“We’re still working together, getting along,” President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, told reporters during an end-of-the-week press conference on Thursday. “We’ve had, you know, just some good dialogue on some key issues. So we’re moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful we can be intentional and strategic about getting stuff done and really trying to make sure that folks all around the state and from both sides of the aisle can walk away with some successes this year.”

For Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, success would be killing Senate Bill 4. The bill prohibits critical race theory or units of it within a course taught in any grade level by any public elementary or secondary school or by any preschool, early childhood education or pre-kindergarten program offered by a public school or charter school.

“It is a horrible bill, let’s be honest,” said Washington, one of three Black female senators. “CRT is not taught anywhere in the state of Missouri, not even at an undergraduate level.”

Washington and Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, engaged in a loud debate and were brought back to order on Wednesday. Washington said the exchange escalated because of decorum, not the bill’s content.

“The reason it got heated wasn’t the nature of the conversation, but the procedure of how it was going,” Washington said. “Despite the fact it was my inquiry to Sen. Brattin, I allowed him to answer questions. When he asked me a question inside of that, all I asked is for the same level of respect that you allow me to answer a question. It was a prime example of why we need cultural diversity in our education so that one who doesn’t look like me or have my body parts can understand what that does to someone that looks like me or like you. Women have different body parts. It hits us a different way when a man will not allow us to speak.”

Rowden said he talked with Washington afterward. He said the bill includes more than CRT and allows parents to influence their child’s education. He also said he listened to “a vast majority of the 1619 project,” a history of slavery in the United States compiled by the New York Times, and doesn’t object to its presentation.

“I think half of this is just the understanding. In certain cases, you have teachers who come at it with a personal bias that informs how they produce that content to kids,” Rowden said. “And so what we’re trying to do is present kids with history and with facts and then let them make the decision and not try to point them in a direction that’s politically motivated. That’s the goal. Will we always get that right? No. Is every teacher like that? No.”

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