Today, state lawmakers considered a bill that would bar the teaching of critical race theory in Wisconsin’s schools. Critical Race Theory involves examining the intersection of race and social structures — such as the law and government.
The bill, which was before two state committees today, doesn’t outright prohibit the ideology — or at least, the term “Critical Race Theory” isn’t mentioned in the specific text of the legislation. Instead, the proposed law calls for a ban on “race or sex stereotyping in instruction provided to pupils in school districts.”
The bill faces long odds, as it currently has no Democratic co-sponsors, and faces a likely veto from Governor Tony Evers.
In addition to banning Critical Race Theory education for students, the legislation would also prohibit teaching those concepts to teachers and other school staff. Violating the bill’s provisions would open districts up to potential lawsuits from parents and the loss of state financial aid.
Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke compared Critical Race Theory to LSD during today’s committee hearing.
Said Clarke: “This junk, indoctrinated into the minds of anybody, but especially young, impressionable minds, is like feeding kids LSD… Are you okay with tax dollars being used to support this hateful ideology? I’m not. Not my tax dollars anyway.”
Senator Kathy Bernier – a Republican from Chippewa Falls – argued that Critical Race Theory frames history, and white people’s role in that history, in unfair terms.
“I’m also of German descent, but I had nothing to do with the Holocaust and I think it was deplorable, but it doesn’t make me guilty of the Holocaust,” Bernier said. “That’s where we’re talking past each other — in how to present race differences or ethnicity differences in our country.”
Representative LaKeshia Myers, a Democrat from Milwaukee, raised concerns about the financial implications of the legislation. Myers is a former history teacher who holds a PhD in education.
Per the bill, a school is open to penalties if a lesson makes a student feel “guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race or sex.”
“If that’s the intent of the bill, then the state of Wisconsin should be prepared to go bankrupt,” Myers said. “The way American history has occurred, everybody will be left with hurt feelings, psychological distress and discomfort. It comes with being a human, and telling the truth about our history.”
Also today, committee members considered a bill that would require districts to post their learning materials and education activities online. That legislation is virtually identical to a similar provision in the Critical Race Theory bill.
Libby Sobic is the education policy director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), a conservative legal firm. She says that parents who want to get access to a school’s learning materials and curricula sometimes have to file an open records request to get them.
Per Wisconsin state law, governmental entities can charge occasionally exorbitant fees for those records.
“My colleagues at WILL tested this theory,” Sobic said. “We submitted open records requests to ten school districts around the state. Madison public schools required us to pay $10,000 for these materials. It is untenable to ask our parents to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to access materials.”
In addition to the ban on Critical Race Theory in schools, state lawmakers are considering a similar bill that would prevent teaching the ideology to state and local government employees.
In a blog post, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway wrote that that proposal was “an attempt to place a gag-order on any public discourse that acknowledges the institutions of slavery, Jim Crow, restrictions on voting rights, or redlining.”
To analyze the debate over Critical Race Theory in Wisconsin, WORT spoke with Kevin Lawrence Henry, Jr. — an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison.