MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin has joined the list of states considering bills that would ban teaching ideas linked to critical race theory.
A group of white Republican lawmakers introduced legislation Thursday that would bar public schools, the University of Wisconsin System and state technical colleges from teaching critical race theory concepts that racism is built into society. The bills also would prohibit local governments and state agencies from training employees on such concepts, mirroring an executive order that former President Donald Trump issued in September barring federal employees from being trained on them. President Joe Biden lifted that order in January.
Violations of the Wisconsin bills would result in the loss of state aid for schools and the colleges and funding for state agencies. The legislation also would allow parents and guardians to sue school boards if the concepts are taught, and remove statutory limits on damages.
"This legislation treats students as equal under the law," Rep. Chuck Wichgers of Muskego, one of the bills' chief sponsors, said during a news conference. "Children should not face state-sanctioned discrimination or psychological distress in an educational environment based on immutable characteristics."
Critical race theory is a term for an academic concept that racism is inherent in social structures and policies. The bills would prohibit teaching that one race or sex is superior to another; a person is inherently racist by virtue of his or her race or sex; a person's moral character isn't determined by race or sex; a person should feel guilty for past acts committed by people of his or her race or sex; and systems based on meritocracy are racist or sexist or designed to oppress people of another race.
Governors and legislatures in Republican-controlled states across the country are moving to define what race-related ideas can be taught in public schools and colleges, a reaction to the nation's racial reckoning since last year's police killing of George Floyd. At least 16 states are considering such bills or have signed them into law.
Education groups, including the National Education Association and the National Council for the Social Studies, are worried that the proposals will have a chilling effect on teachers and classroom discussions, and lead to a sanitized version of the nation's history being taught in schools. The NEA last week posted a message on its website calling on teachers to continue to provide accurate portrayals of history that include all people.
Wisconsin schools Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who is Black, issued a statement saying Wisconsin's legislation would strip local school boards of control of their curriculums.
Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, echoed her, saying local school boards are in the best position to make curriculum decisions for their districts. He added that he's worried parents could tie up school boards in costly litigation.
UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch said only that system officials were reviewing the legislation. A message left at the Wisconsin Technical Colleges System's headquarters wasn't immediately returned.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday he hadn't read the bills, but that "the idea that we want to ensure that people are not ever instructed that one race is superior and another race is not seems to be something I think everybody in Wisconsin should agree with."
Contrary to what Vos is suggesting, critical race theory espouses that white supremacy is built into the nation's laws, but it doesn't promote one race over another.
"They are trying to bastardize this and frame it in a way that changes what critical race theory is," said state Rep. Lakeshia Myers, a Black Democrat from Milwaukee who has served as an education director for the state Department of Corrections and as a student support coach in Milwaukee schools. "It's ridiculous. They don't even understand what critical race theory is."
She said that under the bills, teachers wouldn't be able to tell students about how Blacks won the right to vote or about Juneteenth, when Blacks celebrate their liberation from slavery in 1865.
"As an educator, I was both offended and appalled at both the bills," she said. "When you look at trying to erase history and couch it in a way to not hold people responsible, that's dangerous territory."
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu didn't immediately respond to messages. A spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Tony Evers also didn't respond to a message, but it would seem likely the governor would veto the measures if they reach his desk.
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