On campus

‘Divisive Concepts’ in the classroom

Black History Month guest speaker. Photo by Elliot Payne.

Divisive concepts is a term many individuals have become familiar with through news stories and social media. 

Now these words are being used to describe parts of a curriculum, some of which are facing controversy and speculation. 

‘Divisive concepts’ aim to educate individuals on concepts such as race, sex, white privilege, class systems and other issues which are often classified as systemic problems. 

While these issues are talked about in history books, many educators feel there should be more depth given to these topics. 

Some of the public, however, wish for these issues to not be brought into the classroom at all. These topics are often classified as polarizing, and the public scrutinization of what is taught in the classroom has been placing more pressure onto educators to change the curriculum, ultimately bringing into question academic freedom. 

Students in higher education rely on instructors to give adequate lessons for the future. 

However, the bill HB 2670 — passed in the year 2022 — which “prohibits public institutions of higher education from taking certain actions regarding divisive concepts and the ideologies of employees.” 

Along with the bill, a mandated survey is now required to be sent to students in all public universities. A survey was sent in recent weeks by Tech administration asking students how they felt “expressing their ideas and beliefs without fear or discrimination and without being influenced to embrace any specific viewpoint or belief.”

The challenges placed on academic freedom because of laws like this across the nation have some educators on edge, especially in sectors that teach what some may perceive to be the ugly truth.

Dr. Arthur Banton, an assistant history professor at Tech, explained his perspective on divisive concepts in the public college classrooms and how it has affected him in teaching almost a year since the bill was passed. 

“It’s higher education, higher way of thought, higher way of developing these other skills that kind of go along with that,” he said. 

Along with this, he felt college students pay money for an education and that “should not be encumbered in any way by politicians” and to be educated on “topics that meet your (students) intellectual interest.”

Associate professor, Dr. Troy Smith said he feels as though so-called divisive concepts are “critical to humanity and especially education.” also commenting “It’s our job to teach people what they need to know.” 

Both professors, however, see the bill as an opportunity to continue the conversations about critical topics in the classroom. 

“You have to let people who have different voices express themselves in a classroom and not censor or hinder them,” he said. 

Both professors believe that along with freedom of expression in the classroom to have these conversations, it is also their job, as educators, to give the truth of America’s history to the best of their abilities. 

“I feel like politically motivated or culturally charged topics that people in the community have gotten very upset about without having a clear understanding of has made many of our students not only afraid to discuss things in class and our faculty as well, but in some cases it makes them fearful for their safety,” Smith said.

Banton’s opinion on freedom of conversation in the classroom was that it should continue to be protected “without constraint, as long as you’re not harming others.”