The leaders of Wyoming’s Republican Party sure do love a good wedge issue. How better to divert attention from the fact that the state’s political super majority has all of the power, all of the responsibility and absolutely no solutions to the state’s tremendous fiscal problems?

So long as we stay busy debating “human heartbeat” bills, eliminating gun-free zones and defending our sacred public restrooms from the scourge of transgender women, the party’s pooh-bahs win. 

Well, nuts to that. I want Republicans to know that many of us are on to them.

So why, you may ask, am I bothering to write about the GOP’s fire-and-brimstone opposition to critical race theory — its latest boogeyman, and something that’s not even taught in Wyoming?

Because when the state’s most veteran legislator and its chief school official waste precious time pursuing remedies to problems that don’t exist — when they govern by Republican talking point, instead of Wyoming reality — they must be called out.

Critical race theory is an academic framework that recognizes systemic racism is part of American society, and challenges the beliefs that allow it to flourish. 

Taught mostly at universities and law schools, CRT analyzes why civil rights legislation of the 1960s and 1970s has not been more effective at lessening the social and economic disparities between white Americans and Black Americans, Native Americans and other people of color.

It’s been around for decades, but former President Donald Trump made it a rallying cry last fall when he banned federal agencies from conducting CRT-based racial sensitivity training. Trump cultists pounced, and critical race theory suddenly became their go-to villain.

Don’t worry, the state party still has its own Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) in its crosshairs for voting to impeach Trump. But the election is more than a year away, and CRT is something the GOP can scare the masses with right now.

The anti-CRT banner was picked up in May and flown proudly by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, who claimed that President Joe Biden was promoting a CRT “draft rule” that tries to “normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories” about American history.

There is no draft rule to oppose, and Balow knows it — or at least she should. Biden’s administration is offering grants, not mandates, to schools that teach programs to address systemic racism and the country’s legacy of slavery.

“History and civics should not be secondary to political whim,” Balow wrote in an op-ed published in Wyoming newspapers. “Instead, history and civics instruction should engage students in objective, nonpartisan analyses of historical and current events.”

In a statement praising the superintendent, her state party slammed CRT for “seeking to destroy America’s moral fiber and promote falsehoods about the founding of our nation.”

What part of history do party officials oppose teaching? Is it the more than two centuries of slavery and the nation’s bloodiest war to finally end the barbaric practice that makes them queasy? How about the civil rights movement to promote equality and the troubling racial problems the country is still facing?

I don’t want to destroy an entire country’s moral fiber, but I think students in 2021 should be encouraged to discuss both the Black Lives Matter movement and how it developed, and the rise of white supremacy in our nation. To understand today’s problems, it’s important to know about racial injustice throughout history.

Not surprisingly, CRT is being thrust into the Legislature’s agenda. It doesn’t belong there.

After almost 42 years in the Legislature, Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) is the longest-serving lawmaker in Wyoming’s history. At last week’s Joint Education Committee meeting in Saratoga, co-chairman Scott offered a proposal to establish an “equality and equal rights” curriculum based on principles in the Wyoming Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

The concept was killed on a tie vote, which was the right decision. Scott will likely sponsor a similar measure during the budget session in February, where it should — but may not — meet the same fate.

I don’t have a problem with the content. Scott wants students, in an age-appropriate manner, to be taught about slavery and racial discrimination, and that it is wrong to be unfair or treat anyone differently based on the color of their skin or ethnic background.

But the State Board of Education has the authority to set standards for K-12 instructional directives, not the Legislature. It shouldn’t be a state law. When did Wyoming Republicans abandon the sacrosanct principle of local control?

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I am also concerned about what motivated Scott to advance this idea. He explained he did it to head off any federal effort to mandate CRT curricula in Wyoming schools by authorizing education officials to refuse federal funds and not comply with the requirement.

Rejecting federal dollars has been a recurring theme for Scott in recent years, from Medicaid expansion to the American Rescue Plan. The latter funds, it’s worth noting, spared our schools from the draconian budget cuts Scott wanted to make. Now he’s trying to keep the panel he leads from developing a state solution to our K-12 fiscal crisis. 

Scott’s empty rhetoric on this issue is insulting. There is no effort to mandate teaching critical race theory, nor tie any federal funds to such a plan. There is, however, a long shameful tradition of Republicans like Scott using scare tactics to confuse and control voters. 

Trump, Balow and the GOP message machine have painted an awfully scary picture — riots, destroyed monuments, Marxist take-overs and indoctrinated, self-loathing white kids. (By the way, those monuments they’re so concerned about depict Confederate soldiers, traitors to the nation whose principles are supposedly so revered by the extreme right.)

Donald Trump — who encouraged and activated white supremacists throughout his presidency, including the Jan. 6 insurrection —  is the last person I want telling students anything about racial issues. Wyoming deserves better from the state’s elected school chief than parroting fear-stoked lines from the nation’s worst “teacher.”

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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12 Comments

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  1. Thank you, Mr. Drake, for your clear, informed, reasonable, and wise reporting and commentary. And thank you for your commitment to Wyoming, our future and our democracy. We should all work toward the truth and justice your writing advocates for.

  2. The Munk Debates, as heard on Wyoming’s NPR stations, had a nice give and take about CRT, unlike Drake.

    https://munkdebates.com/podcast/critical-race-theory

    Theory aside, how such issues get discussed in the classroom is indeed open to debate and should be. Should we give card blanche to any educational curriculum thrown at primary or secondary students without critical review? Perhaps Drake should actually visit some of the classrooms that do teach CRT or push a similar curriculum/agenda on students.

    Be it book bans, transgender student access to locker rooms, guns, the stupidity of busing students all over the state for games, or the outdated STEM labs, residents of Wyoming should have a very real interest in what goes on in our schools. Too often they don’t. It is one of the state’s biggest line items in the state’s budget, and has one of the biggest impacts on Wyoming’s future.

    But yeah, politics creeps into any discussion. So be it. Students should be exposed to debates and unpopular ideas just like adults.

    1. “Should we give card blanche to any educational curriculum thrown at primary or secondary students without critical review?”
      No, you should not, but you won’t get an opportunity to do so. Those who “throw curricula at students” would never throw any curriculum at anyone, without first conducting a critical review. Education professionals are competent and trustworthy.

      “politics creeps into any discussion.”
      No, all things are political.

      “Students should be exposed to…unpopular ideas just like adults.”
      No, students should be exposed to good ideas. Bad ideas deserve no attention, no toleration, no license, no right of expression, and no freedom from restriction.

  3. As you can see there is much misleading and false information out there. Recently we have been shown a clear demonstration of what hate and bigotry can do to a society. CRT theory I believe should be taught starting at a grade level suitable for those being taught. High school is the entry point because of two things. Mostly up to this point parents are the most influential person on a child. What happens when a parent teaches racism to their children, that they are physically and mentally superior to anyone that does not have white skin. The question then becomes is this child already lost? Children are born with a clean slate and our duty as a parent is to make sure that a person is not judge by his skin color but by his deeds and his treatment of others. The example I want to you is what took place while not addressing the color of a person but the sexuality of a person. This incident in Gillette Wyoming clearly demonstrates we have other form of hate that must be addressed or our society will continue to fracture into smaller and smaller tribes incapable of working together as a whole for everyone’s benefit. It clear this supposed minster of God has a black whole in his heart and a dangerous desire to destroy people simple because they are waited differently then his hateful self. It the same type of evil society has been trying to rein in so others may not die but in a different guise.

  4. I think you bring a bit of a straw man into your argument regarding CRT in public schools. Of course college level CRT as a discipline isn’t being taught to elementary age children. There probably isn’t even an official class called “Critical Race Theory” in any school in America aside from universities and law schools. But this misses the point that parents including myself are concerned with.

    When angry parents talk about Critical Race Theory they are referring to the underlying assumptions, and philosophical basis that make up CRT, which are clearly being ported into school curriculums if not in an official sense, then in an unofficial one via the dogma of the teachers and school boards that feel pressure or pleasure to propagate it. These underlying assumptions have nothing to do with ignoring slavery, ignoring the racial inequality of the past, or even discussing the way those things impact our country and people today. This is American history and we should all know it, remember it, and not repeat it. What parents opposed to CRT today are fed up and concerned with Mr Drake is the underlying philosophy that seeks to place any and all events, people, and constructs in a blatantly racist context.

    Historical narratives that blatantly demean European achievements and suggest there is somehow an intentional and systematic flaw in being white. Curriculum that doesn’t actually teach that all Americans are equal based not on the color of their skin but the content of their character. These teachers and teachings are obsessed with race, to the point that what they teach becomes a lie. It also completely omits the subtleties and humanity of the people black or white that founded and caught as patriots for our country. Forgets the black heros of the revolution. Ignores that not only were people like Jefferson avid abolitionists but men like Washington learned to do better and freed his slaves.

    It boils who we are and were down to one thing, what color our skin is. Instead of who our children are and can be inside and the journey of our country and people. So I don’t think that it is too much to ask for our politicians – pure motives or not – pass legislation to protect that legacy instead of allow it to be deleted and rewritten.

    I’m not currently a resident of WY, but the country is changing fast and for the sake of my child I am actually considering moving to the great Equality State soon, where I’m glad ego-stroking academic fools like you aren’t yet in the majority.

    1. Perhaps, Mr. Fonda, you need to brush up on your history regarding George Washington. In fact, Washington did not free his slaves on his death, but rather willed them to his wife, with the stipulation that be manumitted upon her death. And in fear of a volatile, unhappy slave environment, Martha Washington freed those slaves she inherited before her death. Notwithstanding, there the vast number of slaves at Mount Vernon remained in bondage because of the terms of a prior inheritance from her first husband, and continued in bondage until the Union defeated the Confederacy in 1865.

      Additionally, when I took a graduate level course, in college, in CRT, the emphasis was not “you’re bad because you’re white”, but rather on understanding and debating the long-term legacy of slavery and American focus, for good and bad, on a totally arbitrary, non-biological construct we call race.

    2. Your comment is an example of why we do need this topic taught more honestly in school. For one, George Washington did not free his slaves, as the myth states. He intended that his slaves be freed upon his death, In fact only one slave was freed upon his death, but all the rest were contingent upon what Martha, his widow, wanted. And she kept them unit it became costly and inconvenient. As for Thomas Jefferson, he was perennially broke and cold not afford to free his slaves while alive. Out of his 130+ slaves, only 5 were freed upon his death, two of them being his natural sons by Sally Hemings, one of his slaves. The rest were sold to pay his debts. This is not conjecture, it has now been acknowledged by his foundation at Monticello. Hell, the black descendants of Mr. Jefferson now participate in the family reunions at Monticello! So read up, learn something.

  5. Unfortunately slavery and Jim Crow and Discrimination have become mere catch words with little meaning to many white Americans. I wasnt taught about these issues in my own schools growing up and only learned the basics when I joined a radical branch of The Civil Right Movement in 1962. If you forget the off- putting name ,Critical Race Theory, and call education that deals with the discrimination , including starvation and death of Black slaves, as well as Asians, and Native Americans and Latinos “Humanitarian History” the resistance, to historys dark side could diminish and youi might prepare Wyoming children for the more diverse urban societies they must ultimately encounter if they want to get jobs.

  6. I so agree with Mr. Drake that the Republican party has long absconded issues to create fear and control rather than to solve the problems. Wyoming politicians are the case study, where facts are distorted to create that anxiety of fear and confusion and to retain power over voters. Now the popular issue is Critical Race Theory. Imagine our country if those law makers seeking to be elected on fear and confusion were there to actually solve the problems like abortion, climate change, voting rights, policing, and preserving our public lands. All the resources, money, and time that have been wasted to promote lies and fear instead of bringing about the solutions to complicated problems is a scam. We, as a nation, continue to debate lies and facts to tether power rather than solve real problems. These politicians that continue to distort and manipulate data and facts are not brave, but terrified of losing their little bit of power and control.

  7. Mr. Drake: I read your article and I wonder if you have school age children? I get the sense that you wouldn’t mind having their young minds bent and twisted through CRT. If college age kids elect to take this course that is a decision to be undertaken between the student and parents. But to say that K-12 should be taught CRT rubs me the wrong way, ESPECIALLY since this group is not being taught anything about civics or anything in related areas. Young minds are fertile ground and to think that teaching kids to hate their skin color, something they have no choice over, is appalling.

    1. there is no CRT being taught in Wyoming public schools. there is no plan for CRT to be taught in Wyoming public schools. There is no federal proposal to force CRT to be taught in Wyoming public schools.

      the efforts by our state “leaders/clowns” to restrict CRT in Wyoming public schools is nothing more than a ruse to get the malleable and uniformed upset about nothing. unfortunately it has worked.

      our state “leaders/clowns” should spend their time on trying to fix REAL problems the State currently faces. as it stands now, the threat of a CRT curriculum is an imaginary problem. the fear of CRT is designed to upset and anger our uneducated electorate.