None of the people who testified to the dangers of critical race theory at a Wyoming Senate committee hearing Friday were able to precisely define what CRT is, and several admitted it’s not even being taught in the state’s public schools.
Nevertheless, they all agreed with Republican talking points — teaching the subject is harmful to white kids, drenched in hate and must be stopped — that have made CRT the extreme-right’s latest Culture Wars wedge issue. It’s the party’s most effective boogeyman in ages.
What is it about critical race theory — an academic framework that analyzes the role of centuries of institutionalized racism on American cultural, economic, political and legal systems — that has prompted such hysteria?
Sen. Troy McKeown (R-Gillette), sponsor of Senate File 103 – Education-limitations on teaching critical race history-2, said he’s concerned that “white privilege” is being taught in inner city schools, and he doesn’t want to see that happen in Wyoming.
A fellow senator asked him if there’s any racial-themed subject that would be made off limits by his bill.
“I think it’s fine to teach about slavery, I think it’s fine to teach about everything,” said McKeown. “What I don’t think is fine to teach, and is being taught, that we owe reparations. You’ve done nothing, I’ve done nothing. It’s in the past.”
He may not have “done anything,” and I may not have “done anything,” but we’ve both, nevertheless, benefited from centuries of exploitation. Communities and individuals of color, meanwhile, have inherited the toxic liabilities of our shared and sometimes shameful history. And no, racism, racist policies and the very real effects thereof are not “in the past.”
“In a sense, America is a good story about slavery also,” he added. “Although very few of our population participated in it, our country is the one that started ending it, and not just here, almost worldwide.”
Let’s see: Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery, about 60 years earlier than the United States. Britain, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Portugal and Brazil did so before the U.S. passed the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Does anyone else feel it’s a bad idea for a lawmaker who doesn’t know our history to prescribe how it’s taught?
McKeown said he objects to CRT’s “shaping of minds in a divisive and hateful manner. … It’s a lot easier to end this before it starts, than try to fix it after the damage is done.”
How would SF 103 help stop this bitter divide? For that explanation, let’s turn to Sen. Bo Biteman (R-Ranchester), a member of the Senate Education Committee that approved McKeown’s bill 5-0.
“This bill says you can’t spin the facts based on your critical race theory or philosophy, you can’t color your teaching in the light of, ‘Oh, Timmy, you’re white, you’re 10 years old, your Dad has a college degree and your Mom is a doctor, you’re privileged — and you should be ashamed of that privilege,’” Biteman said. “And poor little Timmy is going, ‘What did I do? I didn’t do anything wrong.’”
I expected the two Republican lawmakers to stoke fears about how left-wing teachers are ruining our schools. I was curious about how Wyoming’s newly appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder would handle the controversial issue.
Would he follow the lead of his predecessor, Jillian Balow, who bailed before finishing her second term to become Virginia’s non-elected education chief? Balow’s well-known anti-CRT views align perfectly with her new boss, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who used the issue to whip Virginia voters into a frenzy.
If anything, Schroeder is an even bigger critic of the theory than Balow. He called the bill “a necessary step stemming the tide of an insidious worldview that has become the default ideology in so many public institutions across our country, from government agencies to corporate human resource departments to teacher training programs.”
Insidious worldview? That’s pretty hyperbolic, but he was just getting warmed up.
“Any political ideology that riddles kids with shame and blame and subjects them to inappropriate guilt must be exposed and stopped,” Schroeder said.
But is it really the job of the Legislature to unilaterally impose its own political ideology on the public school system? In Wyoming, the State Board of Education sets educational standards, while local school districts make curriculum decisions.
“It remains the responsibility of the guardians of our society, in this case our Wyoming legislators, to protect the philosophical integrity of our classrooms,” Schroeder said.
He expressed his disdain for journalists who editorialize in news stories when he believes they should only be stating facts.
“The same is happening in the classroom, given the cultural climate,” Schroeder said. “We are so polarized as a society, and honestly I don’t see that great gap coming together because you’ve got two completely different worldviews, and the twain shall never meet.
“The leaders and legislators are going to have to embrace one worldview or the other,” he added, “because they are incompatible.” Like good vs. evil? Or perhaps he meant like black and white.
Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) noted the country is divided about whether CRT is even an issue, but with SF 103 “we’re putting it in statute and forcing it down school boards.”
“Some ideas are toxic, some ideas are healthy, and the teacher has to discern to what extent you open up that discussion in the classroom,” Schroeder said.
I remember my best teachers as the ones who most effectively challenged their students to think for themselves. They didn’t avoid controversial subjects of the day, be it the Vietnam War or the civil rights movement or race relations.
If CRT is banned and teachers must guard against any lessons that dare suggest there is systemic racism in America — and let’s be clear here: there absolutely is systemic, institutional racism in America — there will be no discussions about police brutality against people of color, white supremacy or a host of other race-related issues.
A meaningful exploration of ideology underpinning slavery or the Holocaust could not be taught. Too divisive. And much of what we know about history — including the lessons we’ve learned from the sins of our past — will be lost to new generations.
Here’s the good news: the committee amended the bill so it no longer includes “critical race theory,” except in the title. Now it says “the study of and devotion to American institutions and ideals shall not include tenets that promote divisions or hatred on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin.”
McKeown blessed the changes. Biteman, though, looked like he’d been speared in the back. He called the amendment “a good example of why we need to expand school choice in this state, because we have diametrically opposed viewpoints on things of a cultural nature.”
“And I think the money should follow the students so parents can make that decision about where their kids go to school,” the senator added.
I’m not surprised by the rancor. When many far-right lawmakers can’t get their way about educational issues, they demand “school choice” and vouchers so they can pull kids out of public schools and put them in private ones — so long as taxpayers continue to foot the bill.
Gee, I wonder if our new schools superintendent — who ran a private Christian school in Cody before getting his current public gig — might agree.