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.

Opinion

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. 

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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  1. You say you’ve done nothing, so why not give everything back. Return what you have that your ancestors actually stole from all other cultures. Your ancestors raped and pillaged. You maimed and killed and refuse to admit the cruelty that today by description makes you cringe. It’s horrific when embracing the example provided by those that paved the way to the luxury you live as you request our history to be made to fade. Some how you think that distorting historical moments can create reprieve where your minds set to ease as we yet must live in this world begging for the right to breath. Yes You are embrassed because you got caught the ones before you didn’t consider a tomorrow where people won’t be Bought
    yet you still desire the glamorous life and refuse to look back yet your still white, still privileged at the cost of us. The cultures you savagely disempowered just because, we ar3 Finally saying its enough.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Drake and WyoFile for this excellent piece highlighting the ignorant absurdity of this movement. While the ideology and ignorance being brought to this topic are anything but funny, I got a huge kick out of the headline here – kudos to whoever wrote the headline and drop head!

  3. I know it is futile to expect these particular legislators to delve into ‘Shadow Theory’. The deeper you bury your fears, mistakes, and sins, the more toxic and stronger they become.

  4. In the spring of 2018 I attended the 150th Anniversary of the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie at the old Fort. It was a two day affair with many Native American attendees from many States. It featured speakers from each of the Tribes that signed the Treaty. The speaker that I remember the most was Marcella LaBeau from the Two Kettle Band of the Lakota. She was also an Army nurse and a Veteran of WWII. She was nearly 100 years old. She recounted how many Native American children were taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools. Their hair was cut, they were punished for speaking their native language. This was policy of the Government of the United States for many years in the past. “Kill the Indian, save the man.” I was sitting next to an older woman and a younger one. Mother and daughter I thought. As Marcella told her story the older woman began to weep uncontrollably and rested her head on her daughter’s shoulder. This was over 100 years after the fact. The harm that was done to those people is generational, not forgotten to this day.

    A couple of years ago I attended a presentation in Sheridan by Yufna Soldier Wolf from the Arapahoe Tribe at the Wind River Reservation. She was instrumental in retrieving the remains of Little Chief (age 14), Horse (11), and Little Plume (9). They were taken from their parents and sent to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. They all died within two years. The remains that could be located from the school grounds were gathered and reinterred on the Wind River in 2017. This story is hard for me even to think about. I grew up in this region, hunted with my Dad and did all those things fathers and sons do. These little boys didn’t have that chance just because they were Indians in the wrong place at the wrong time. The U.S. Government sanctioned this treatment.

    Like it or not, this is but a fraction of our Nation’s racial history from right here in our back yard. I can only assume that what I have recounted here would be in violation of anti-CRT instruction in Wyoming Public Schools. This legislation disrespects the history of Native American people and the history of our Nation. It deserves to be taught. How else are we going to learn to respect each other.

  5. Little Timmy has nothing on me, I went Baptist Church and I was traumatized every Sunday and sometimes Wednesday by all the actions I feared that would send me to Hell. That is real trauma, but sure Bo lets make sure my tax money sends kids to religious schools to get the same trauma.

    Fascinating meeting but one of many that proved Christian Nationalism is a core tenet motivating many in Wyoming. It is also clear that any moderates that join the Republicans for business reasons are aiding and abetting ideas that are an anathema to our Constitutional principles. I hope they change their minds as their apathy about the GOP direction should serve to frighten those that enjoy freedoms unencumbered by religious laws.

  6. Thanks for clearing up the confusion for me Kerry. I’d heard some scuttlebutt about CRT, but being old and uninformed I assumed that it was still echos of the old saw about youngsters sitting to close to the Cathode Ray Tube. “It’ll make ya go color blind!” “It”ll fry your brain!” Obviously I grew up in a very different world. Interesting sidenote about the ‘old squawkbox though. Did you know that any color in all of creation can be duplicated by mixing some red, some blue, and a little bit of green light in just the right proportion. I wonder if the general concept is lost on those folks down in Cheyenne as they fight over the remote control……..

  7. This is a “sarcastic” letter sent by me to ALL the Wyoming Senators:
    Let us dispense with Critical Race Theory – the way you are defining it.
    Yes we all know that history says that the Africans came here on luxury cruise ships to well-paying jobs in the new world.
    And white women were treated equally by white men. And children were cherished and pampered.
    But how are you going to explain the history of the Wind River Reservation? The displacement of the non-immigrants by immigrants? First – it was tribal land for any tribe. Then the Fort Laramie Treaty gave it to the Crow. Then the Fort Bridger Treaty in 1868 gave it to the Shoshone. Then in 1872 – lo and behold – let us put 2 historically warring tribes on the same Reservation. Then in 1904 white settlers needed a place so – let’s take tribal land and make the town of Riverton. How will all this history be taught? Don’t you think that those outside of the Wind River area should know the Wyoming History? Don’t forget to teach that the tribes were afraid of the geysers and had to be removed from Yellowstone for their own safety.
    How are you going to explain Heart Mountain in class? Is this even taught in Wyoming schools?
    What about the Holocaust? Having grown up with survivors that lived next door to me, it amazes me that there are those that want to deny it happened. Maybe the Jewish peoples were the first to decide to get inked? And chose numbers instead of animals or flowers on their arms?
    How will you instruct our future leaders regarding the Community of Empire – north of Torrington? They could not tolerate the cold climate?
    Yes – this is sarcastic. But if you are not a white man – you know the realities of real life. And it needs to be taught. To prevent it happening again!

  8. For a zestful whirl around the Critical Race Theory dance floor, watch the political satirist John Oliver’s take on CRT at his YouTube channel ( the most recent show from Sunday Feb. 20 ; easy to find ; 28 minutes ).
    If CRT is being willfully inflicted on our frontal lobes, we might as well get a good laugh from it.

  9. 2nd attempt to comment. If they disagree with the facts, they won’t post them.
    The kids are victims of a conspiracy to give them serious psychological problems. Common Core Dysfunctional Math. Gender Confusion Lessons. Critical Hate Yourself Theory. Mask Mandates. All a big FU to good parenting and trying to bring up your kids without mental health problems being spread by the media. The narcissists running the educational establishment from the top down want to see the children fail. Then they can demand more money and do the very same thing. I grew up in the hood. I was student teaching in the hood. You cannot follow these guidelines and produce anything but hate and confusion. I have seen it first-hand. We are spoiled here in our little island of decent people. You have no idea what the Educational Industrial Complex has in mind for your kids.

  10. Critical race theory is a bogeyman of the right-wingers to keep their base riled up. The so-called issue really is nothing more than a “culture wars” talking point in which some white people can express resentment at the way that black people are moving into the mainstream of American society. Most of the opposition to critical race theory is a substitute for opposing equality for dark-skinned people. It would be more honest for the opponents to get the white sheets out of the closet and go burn some crosses.

    1. I agree. Look no further then some of the comments posted here.

      For years, the right wing fringe have claimed “leftists” are indoctrinating children by providing them with information and resources that the fringe do not agree with. Sexuality, race relations, and world history to name a few. In response, the fringe wish to remove that information and resources that don’t align with their delicate beliefs.

      What is considered indoctrination? The access to information or points of view that are different than what you know? Or is indoctrination the denial or limitation to information or different points of view?

      It’s a shame that self professed “patriots” want to limit information so that their faults aren’t as easily exposed and/or identified.

  11. It may hardly matter how much the sheltered white students in Wyoming learn about the historical horrors suffered by people of color — as long as they remain in Wyoming ,where the vast majority of people are white. But if they go out into the wider world, as , given the state of the white Wyoming economy, most will have to in order to make a living, they will be at a disadvantage if they know nothing about people who are different than them. Right now mixed race people are the fastest growing segment of the population , according to the 20/ 20 census. To be ignorant will not be bliss when the ignorant white Wyomingite is competing for jobs with people of color. Acquiring knowledge about others in a diverse world is not the same as blame.

  12. I once took a workshop focused on the relative inequities faced by our diverse communities and how to go about building better relations amongst us all. For a long while I thought I would need to give away much of what I had created, owned, built, to right the balance. After much consideration, I realised my responsibility was to act, now, in present time, to do my part to reduce the continuing disadvantage faced by the many, perpetrated by the few. It is not about race. It is about power. That we stand on the backs of others to get ahead is not ok for adults, and especially not ok for children, as they are especially tuned in to fairness.

  13. Being a victim of racism and hate crimes, I find the one-sided CRT enthusiasts utterly revolting. Of course this trash finds its way into our classrooms. The NEA and the teachers’ unions are all for it. They teach it at the corrupt universities and the teachers carry the lies into classrooms in their minds. Every seminar and symposium for these corrupt minds pushes this sick ideology. It does not have to be in the dumbed down history and English books for it to affect the children. It is part of a complex web of low expectations that these institutions instill into the minds of people teaching class. Common Core is part of it. Horrible insult to the children. Gender confusion is also part of it, taught by “educators”. The amount of confusion and corruption is completely intentional. Masks are part of it now too. All these ideas go together to make kids unhappy and uncomfortable. This is not an accident. It mirrors the policy of Nazi Germany in occupied lands. Let them learn just enough to dig ditches and plow the fields. Destroy their self-esteem and make them doubt themselves. Let there be no thoughts of rebellion or patriotism. Parents need to pay attention and ask their kids what is talked about in class. They need to know if the teacher is a good person or not. They need to listen to what their kids say after class. The clues will be there. If the school is bad take your kids out and do a better job. Homeschooling is on an upswing for these reasons, and kids who are taught at home are generally better educated. All we can do is give the kids a chance to make up their own minds. That starts with a quality education that teaches real history and exposes them to a variety of literature. There are good teachers out there, but they are fading fast. Administrators and school boards are the absolute worst of the bunch. They have no morals once they become indoctrinated by the unions and the NEA.

  14. May I offer 1619 as required reading for all legislators and anyone wanting to hear other voices than those who may have an advantage in this country due to systematic institutionalizes racism? During a long road trip, I listened to sixteen hours of history that was even more moving as authors of color revealed experiences, legislation, and events I never learned in nineteen years of my education. I am beginning to understand privilege created by centuries of white supremacy. As a White woman raised in the U.S.A. by a family with a modest means, I have worked hard and am proud of all that I have accomplished in my lifetime. I am not proud, however, that this opportunity may not be the experience of all people in this land of the free and the brave. Until we all embrace the full history of our beloved country, we will continue creating the story of America in ignorance, fear and denial.

  15. To me this legislation is just dripping with irony, paradox, or contradiction – what ever you want to call it. It seems to me that this legislation if it is passed by the vast majority of white anglo-saxons in the Wyoming legislature would truly be an extension of “white privilege.” Don’t make me feel bad, I’m white! Dumb, dumb, dumb.

    1. ” … irony, paradox, or contradiction …” Sorry, mate. All that stuff’s just a multi-word dictionary search for the ones you’re critter-sizin.
      Butt furst thaid haf-ta no howe too spel thim thar werds yer rye-tun, uh huh.

  16. We shouldn’t be surprised. Wyoming’s Little Red State Schoolhouse mentality has already dealt a blow to its maskless, largely vaccination-free basketball teams, who have had to cancel as many games as they’ve played since the Covid-19 pandemic began. On the other hand, the Wind River Indian Reservation basket ball teams with masks and high vax rate, have never missed a game. So much for science, time to go after history. At least in history classes there is room for debate in the interpretation of past events, what factors contributed to such and such an outcome, whether or not the U.S. deliberately provoked the war with Mexico. Why not give our young people the opportunity to grapple with the historical record themselves? After all, they are fleeing Wyoming in droves and may end up in places where critical THINKING is in high demand.

    1. Speaking of the reservation, how will the ignorant CRT hysteria represent wyoming’s native history? Public schools already teach a white washed version of native wyoming. will the lemmings that are supportive of the CRT fantasy want to remove, what is left of, the native curriculum?

  17. People need to look at the big picture of the CRT lies and what is really going on. Conservative activist Christopher Rufo (look him up) invented the entire CRT controversy with the end game of pushing “school choice”. Many see “school choice” as a way to return to school segregation and destroy public schools. That is the plan and the GOP, knowingly or not, is playing right into their hand. Also – have to point out that you have to be pretty tone deaf to say teaching about race in school will lead it divisiveness when the invented CRT conflict is doing nothing but being divisive.

  18. Biteman’s response to CRT is actually support for his other ” strawman ” -Election Integrity. It does make one wonder if a man so ignorant could have been elected in a fair system.

  19. As soon as I read the Jillian Balow editorial in the Pinedale Roundup, I recognized a Republican political talking point that would be exploited. It has been exploited and is being exploited. I wish my rebuttal was required reading for out Wyoming legislators.

  20. Thanks Kerry. Your thorough explanation of events is so helpful. Glad for the amended bill. Let’s hope the machine doesn’t try to change education by strangling our teachers’ ability to teach. Keep us posted.

  21. Your article prompted me to donate to a wyofile. I inadvertently attributed your article to Tennessee Watson. Thank you for your take on this subject.