Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow provided seven pages from a Wyoming student's notebook as evidence that critical race theory presents a threat to Wyoming students. (courtesy/Wyoming Department of Education)

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow is backing proposed legislation to deter public schools from teaching aspects of critical race theory, citing one student’s notes as evidence of the threat to the state’s education.

Critical race theory is an academic study of systemic racism and inequality rooted in the nation’s history that its scholars say helps explain continuing biases and disparities in modern American life. Though the theory has existed for decades, it has become a political flashpoint in the last year as school districts wrestle with incorporating it into curricula, with right-wing politicians and others attacking it as dangerous indoctrination.

At a Sept. 10 press conference at the State Capitol, Balow, a Republican,  joined the lead sponsor of the Civics Transparency Act, Senate Majority Floor Leader Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) and co-sponsor Senate President Dan Dockstader (R-Afton), to support the measure. She said critical race theory has already crept into Wyoming public school classrooms, threatening to indoctrinate the state’s youth against U.S. and Wyoming efforts to rectify those inequalities.

Balow said her evidence of the threat includes notes regarding classroom lessons that “lead students to make conclusions that support Marxism in the absence of any comparison to other theories or other concepts.”

Upon WyoFile’s request, Balow provided what she said was evidence: handwritten class notes by a Wyoming middle school student that a parent of the student gave to Balow.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow backs proposed legislation to deter public schools from teaching aspects of critical race theory without a comprehensive examination of civics, and provided notes from a Wyoming student to back up the potential threat. (courtesy/Wyoming Department of Education)

The notes document some fundamentals of Marxism and struggles between class systems in history, as well as theories about male dominance in societal structures. The seven pages of penciled notes include a 10-question quiz about Marxism as well as references to the role of industrial revolution in society, the film “Marxist And Cheese” and the notion of “feminism theory.”

Balow did not follow up with the school or teacher to learn about the specific lesson or course material that were the source of the student’s notes, she told WyoFile.

A parent expressed a concern and it became my concern as I looked at the notes as well,” Balow said. “It added to, really, what’s a growing queue of concerns from citizens and constituents across the state. So I wouldn’t say that my response to this particular concern did more for me than add to a queue of concerned parents about content that, you know, that’s possibly creeping into our classrooms.” 

Balow also cited a Fordham Report, a publication of a conservative education group, that gave Wyoming an “F” grade for inadequate standards in U.S. history and civics.

The draft bill

Driskill will introduce, and Dockstader will co-sponsor, the Civics Transparency Act, Driskill said during the press conference.

The measure aims to thwart aspects of critical race theory, such as institutional racism and inequality as founding and persisting features of the United States and modern life in America, from being taught in Wyoming classrooms without comprehensive context.

It would require school districts to publicly disclose details relating to “assemblies, guest lectures or other educational events facilitated by the school district or school, including those conducted by individuals not employed or associated with the school or school district, excluding student presentations,” according to the bill draft.

The bill would mandate that districts publicly disclose comprehensive details about civics, social studies and U.S. and Wyoming history curricula before each school year, including “all textbooks, reading material, videos, digital materials, websites, assessments and other online applications.”

“It leaves our system intact … as far as curriculum,” Driskill said during the press conference. “But it is all about transparency. So what the bill really is, is it’s going to make aware curriculum and materials and anything that’s going on in the classroom, as a whole, will be posted on a website so that you the public and you as parents have the ability to see what’s being taught to your kids.”

Parents should be made aware of any instructional materials or guest speakers that might come from “out of country, out of the state that doesn’t fit,” he said.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow (Republican) worries the Biden administration might make teaching critical race theory a condition of federal funding for public education in Wyoming schools, she said. (Wyoming Department of Education)

The bill would also mandate “instruction in the essentials of the United States constitution [sic] and the constitution [sic] of the state of Wyoming,” according to the draft. Instruction would also include “the study of and devotion to American institution and ideals,” as a graduation and degree requirement for all state-supported K12 schools and colleges. 

The instruction would be taught for a minimum of three academic years in grades K-8, and one academic year in high schools, according to the draft.

“[It] does not affect, in any way, what local school boards do,” Driskill said. “The [Wyoming] State Board of Education, they still review [all curricula standards].”

Balow has long been an advocate for “overhauling our entire civics framework in Wyoming,” she said. Driskill’s proposed bill, she told WyoFile, addresses two “primary deficiencies” in Wyoming education.

First, there’s a lack of “state leadership” for what’s expected of schools “when it comes to teaching U.S. history and civics,” she said. Second, parents are upset about not being able to effectively engage in curriculum decisions at the school-district level.

Balow cited a Wyoming Tribune Eagle report of frustration among parents that became so heated it prompted the Laramie County School District #1 Board of Trustees to shut down public comment due to disruptive behavior during a public meeting.

Opposition to the bill

The Wyoming Education Association opposes the measure, it said, for its “political” approach to mandate detailed disclosures of curricula and materials, and for mandating specific course topics.

“This draft legislation is the perfect example of a problem we see time and again here in Wyoming,” WEA President Grady Hutcherson said in a statement. “The legislation reflects a lack of understanding about what’s practical in Wyoming classrooms.”

Classrooms at Southridge Elementary in Casper were prepped for the upcoming school year on Aug. 24, 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Parents and communities already have thorough access and a “right to be collaborative partners in students’ education,” Hutcherson said. Those disclosures, discussions and deliberations begin with parents and local schools and school boards, while curriculum standards are set by the autonomous Wyoming State Board of Education via multiple channels of public and professional input, he said.

“The state of Wyoming’s process for standards review is practical and trustworthy as it allows for input from both public comment and content-area expertise,” Hutcherson said. “This process should not be subverted for political purposes.”

WEA supports transparency in education, Hutcherson said. However, the proposed legislation misses the mark by placing onerous burdens on teachers while also potentially depriving students of an education free of undue political influence.

“Being overly prescriptive by attempting to legislate strict adherence to cataloging all materials used to support lessons is unrealistic and burdensome red tape and takes away quality teaching time with students,” Hutcherson said. “It’s unrealistic and limiting to expect [teachers and schools] to keep account of every resource they incorporate into teaching. This is why we have standards.”

A ‘made-up issue’?

Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) believes any attempt by the Wyoming Legislature to prescribe a curriculum runs afoul of the state’s constitution, she said. The draft bill also threatens to “upset” the state’s long-established divisions between the Legislature and the autonomy of Wyoming State Board of Education to set curriculum and instruction standards, she said.

Setting curriculum standards, she said, “is the expertise and the commitment of the members of the Wyoming State Board of Education, and it’s also done on schedule that allows for meaningful implementation of the standards.

Students gather outside Centennial Jr. High in Casper Sept. 1 for the first day of the 2021-22 school year. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“This is a made-up issue,” said Connolly, a University of Wyoming professor who serves on the legislative education committee. “It’s not a Wyoming issue. It just became part of the national outcry that followed the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not something that we’ve heard anything about from our parents, our teachers or our schools.”

Language in the draft bill is inaccurate, she said. It states that students shall be taught “the history of slavery and race based discrimination [is] to include the end of slavery and efforts to end discrimination in accordance with the founding principles of the United States.”

Those were not founding principles of the United States, Connolly said.

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“They ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Connolly said. “What you have are members of Republican leadership, and the state superintendent, having a press conference about this bill and critical race theory when, that night, there were school boards around the state that needed to be escorted out of their buildings because of the threat of violence. That’s what’s really going on and important right now.” 

The Wyoming State Board of Education does not take positions on legislation, Chairman Ryan Fuhrman said. 

“I will say that regardless of the legislative outcome of this bill, the State Board of Education has valued and continues to value transparency and public involvement in the crafting of standards,” Fuhrman told WyoFile via email. “Our current system of approving content standards has many opportunities for public input.”

The WEA said it also stands behind the current system.

“Because the State Board of Education has established authority and process for addressing standards, it is outside the purview of the Legislature to legislate changes to standards or curriculum as this bill attempts to do,” the WEA stated.

Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. No political science curriculum would be complete without teaching about Marx, socialism, and communism. That doesn’t mean that by doing so, the school is indoctrinating anyone into believing that communism works (it never has) or that we need an unconstitutional law to “fight against” communism in our schools. The same principle applies in this case. Why are pols so scared of “critical race theory?” Only because it’s their out-of-state political party’s latest bogeyman.

    What’s happened to Wyoming? We used to think for ourselves and resist outside influence. But our politicians are now so beholden to, and controlled by, national political parties (none of which care one bit about our small population and measly 3 electoral votes) that we’re set to waste huge amounts of money to enact their manipulative agendas and scare tactics into law! We need to regain our independence.

  2. Jillian, as a statistician who deals in how to present and analyze factual information based on data (not on cherry-picked anecdotes) I am really disappointed that you don’t want students in Wyoming to confront the truth about the historical (and current) elements of systemic racism in this country (definition of CRT in layman’s terms). I think you should look about for another job. Shameful….

  3. Indoctrination is Ballow’s worry? Does she not realize that the vulgar, obscene utterances and yard signs all around us have far more influence on our young people’s developing minds than anything taught in schools? Granted, Ms Ballow cannot be held responsible for the extra-curricular teachings, some propounded by elected officials, that now pollute our neighborhoods. What do kids think when they pass a “F**k Biden flag, as I have to do daily? What are children in Sublette County School District No. 1 supposed to deduce when a school board member plies Fremont Lake in his power boat waving “F**K Biden” and “F**k People Who Voted for Biden” banners? The First Amendment protects those who display their obscenities on their boats and in their front yards, but the coarsening of civic discourse threatens Wyoming far more than anything taught in school. The presentation of historical facts – such as that racial barriers constructed after World War II egregiously excluded African Americans from prosperity-generating benefits – in no way teaches White students to hate themselves. But the open hostility that now pervades our State does indeed teach kids to hate those whose beliefs differ from their own. The Legislature has far more pressing issues to reckon with than tinkering with curricular materials.

  4. As many in these comments have stated, there is nothing in the student notes that reflect critical race theory. Balow and her ilk are making a mountain out of a mole hill that they seem to not understand at all. The reaction and the will to police the curriculum as her draft outlines is more worrisome than anything in this CRT overreaction.

  5. I wonder if the opposition to teaching the history of race relations in this country is anything more than another expression of the evolving white supremacy movement in the US, exacerbated after Trump took office. It seems that there are a lot of folks out there that get their shorts in a twist if anything other than conservative principles are addressed in our schools.

  6. Paranoia and racism abound in backward Wyoming, paranoia and racism toward those who are not lily white.

    The reality that racism has always prevailed in this country and that it always will as long as lies and misinformation and subtle conditioning are practiced in our schools. Those lies and misinformation condition kids to treat dark-skinned people as “lesser beings”. The truth of my assertions are reflected in the actions of the utter trash that you elect to office at ALL levels of government.

  7. Wyoming politicians have a long history of criticizing the public schools when they see a chance to connect with at least some voters. Milward Simpson ran for governor in the 1950s when McCarthyism was running rampant. Simpson placed newspaper ads claiming “The Little Red Schoolhouse is redder than you think.”

  8. I could pick and choose things from my student’s notes and take them in isolation and come up with concerning things to rile up the electorate as well. I would bet if you actually sat in that classroom, you would see the train of thought that those notes were trying to establish. And it wouldn’t be the overthrow of the national identity or the predisposition that America is a racist country. We read Karl Marx when we talk about the Russian Revolution and the 2nd Industrial Revolution in America, we do so to understand the ideas that led to advocating for labor laws and protections of workers etc. and the anger that those populations felt, what drove them to advocate for change. If I drew parallels to the election of former President Trump, citing the anger and frustration that the working class, the marginalized middle class conservatives, felt to the “establishment” as reasons for the nomination and eventual inauguration of Trump, it would demonstrate the point equally…which is what you do. But, if my students only took notes that covered part of the discussion or lesson, it would be guaranteed to insight the reactionary element on whichever side didn’t make it into the notes. The example in this article is not evidence of anything other than a really poor grasp on note-taking strategies and, I feel, doesn’t accurately reflect what was being taught. I have had many conversations with parents who have wanted to run me out on a rail because of something they heard their student say I said in class, or interpreted a handout or reading in isolation without being there for the entire lesson. This is, once again, manufactured outrage and is a needless exercise of legislative overreach.

    1. Evan Bock, my wife taught elementary school for 30+ years (now retired). I will never forget what she said to some upset parents during a parent/teacher conferences early on. Quote, “if you promise not to believe everything your child says happens in the classroom, I promise not to believe everything they say happens at home.” Use a little discernment.

    2. Let the parents and Legislators who want to run the lesson plans be required to attend all Civics and Social Studies classes they have objected to for the duration of the class before they are allowed to speak at any Board meeting concerning such classes. All notes, test results, essays and reports will be made available for perusal by the general public .

      1. That is a good suggestion.

        Unfortunately, teachers jobs are hard enough teaching students. Dealing with the ignorance of some “parents” would be too much of a burden on our already underpaid educators.

        There are those who are lost causes. Trying to teach them something that they have no capability of understanding would be a losing battle. Take a look at some of the comments here on wyofile for all the proof that is needed.

        Cheers

        1. My sentiments exactly.
          Trying to teach a leftist to listen and reason is like trying to teach a Golden Retriever to drive a car. But the suggestion is sound. I sat in on classes in Los Angeles. There was one teacher who was very good. The rest were paranoid and disappointing. They thought I was grading them and the thought scared them. Parents should really sit in on classes and see what is being taught.

  9. First: I am vehemently opposed to teaching CRT nonsense (or any ideology at that). The point of education is equip students with the power to think for themselves.

    Second: I am a teacher.

    Third: There has been zero push for anything even slightly related to CRT in our district. In fact, I can’t think of any teacher that would be willing to push CRT in their classroom if they were told to do so.

  10. Asking Connolly anything contrary to her left wing University Professor position is a waste of time. “It’s not something that we’ve heard anything about from our parents, our teachers or our schools.” Seriously? I’m not even part of the school system any longer since my child graduated and even I have heard comments from parents about the CRT indoctrination going on in our school systems nation wide and beginning to creep into our local school systems. Her comment is nothing more than a head in the sand comment.

    1. Anecdotal evidence isn’t factual.

      Your neighbors daughters cousin isn’t a valid source of information. CRT is not an issue and hasn’t been one in wyoming. You’re just subscribing to non existent outrage.

      1. If the student’s notes illustrated in this article are based on classroom instruction about Critical Race Theory (CRT), then this subject is either being incorrectly taught or has been grossly misinterpreted by the student who produced these notes. The originators of CRT (e.g. Derek Bell) as an intellectual enterprise comprised Black and White intellectuals who were examining the how laws, policies, and social norms in America contributed to socio-economic inequality among the American people (e.g. African Americans versus Americans of European descent) throughout the history of this country. That’s it in a nutshell. No revolution. No Communism. No Marxism. No reverse bigotry or racism.

        1. Thank you. Gregory Eaglin. Well said. CRT is not a threat, but a way to view systemic racism. I’m from Wyoming but am currently teaching college in Texas where Governor Greg Abbott recently signed a bill into law that prohibits educators from teaching about the history and social impacts of systemic racism in the U.S., i.e., the teaching of critical race theory.

          Derrick Bell, Charles Lawrence, Lani Guinier, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, Patricia Williams, and Kimberle Crenshaw are legal scholars that founded CRT in hopes of a more just judicial and thus social system.

          For those interested, below is a link to a report on CRT from the American Bar Association.

          https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/civil-rights-reimagining-policing/a-lesson-on-critical-race-theory/

          “CRT is not a diversity and inclusion “training” but a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship.
          “The hope in CRT is in its recognition that the same policies, structures, and scholarship that can function to disenfranchise and oppress so many also holds the potential to emancipate and empower many. It provides a lens through which the civil rights lawyer can imagine a more just nation.”

          1. Also from your ABA citation:

            “Therefore, as many critical race theorists have noted, CRT calls for a radical reordering of society and a reckoning with the structures and systems that intersect to perpetuate racial inequality.”

            Radical Indeed.

            Hardly an objective depiction of CRT. Of course the American Bar Association endorses CRT. They have a history of endorsing all Liberal agendas, and attempting to block conservative judicial appointments by disingenuously rating them “not qualified”.

  11. In light of the recent exposure of teachers caught championing Marxist theories around the country, it is worth looking at the entire context. Are students being taught about the millions who suffered and died under tyrannical Marxists such as Stalin and Mao? Both the curriculum and the bloated budget of Wyoming’s education system should be transparent. Parents and taxpayers have a right to know what is being taught and how the money is spent.

      1. I was living with a school board member. Marxism is the pandemic. But since CRT is also extremely racist it also has a definite Nazi flavor to it.
        I have known multiple parents whose kids have developed neurotic behaviors and disrespectful attitudes as a direct result of indoctrination. Just look at the protesters on tv. College kids who hate the greatest republic ever devised. Kids borrowing massive loans to putter through worthless classes and declare that living in a place where there is not enough food and no chance of upward mobility is where they would rather live.

    1. There are some excellent resources to balance this obvious propaganda. “A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich”, Animal Farm, 1984. I had great teachers in middle school. By the time I reached college I could laugh at the communist fools. Kids today are in trouble because decent people don’t like the socialist dogma in the teaching environment. It breeds dishonesty and pathological behavior. Good people can’t take the negativity so they leave. There are a few exceptions, but they have strong personalities and a financial base to fall back on so they can tell people like this professor to sit and spin.

  12. I was disappointed with the doodles. And, I thank God I am not in middle school.

    I really couldn’t make heads or tails of the notes as to what was really being TAUGHT or LEARNED. I’d much rather hear the teacher and look at class materials. Didn’t seem like Critical Race Theory was the target of conversation when looking at the written questions at the end.

    1. Leave it to the dysfunctional monkeys who lead our state to be hell bent on fixing a non existent issue. There are actual issues that our State needs to address. CRT is not one of them.

      Folks need to get a grip.

      1. Agreed 100%. I doubt that Balow or any state legislator could identify CRT if it walkd up, introduced itself and shook their hands. But the extreme right is in lockstep with the idiocy now gripping our country….