Republicans introduce ban on critical race theory in the name of Martin Luther King Jr.

Critical race theory bill
Rep. Chuck Wichgers speaks at a press conference introducing his bills banning the teaching of critical race theory in Wisconsin. (Screenshot | WisEye)

Wisconsin Republicans continued a strategy of governance by Twitter trending topics on Thursday with the introduction of a slate of bills meant to ban so-called critical race theory (CRT) from K-12 schools, higher education and state employee training. 

The Wisconsin bills follow similar efforts from GOP counterparts in other state legislatures to ban critical race theory across the country. Wisconsin Republican legislators have also recently copied legislation from other states in bills that would require playing the national anthem before public sporting events, preventing trans athletes from playing youth sports and restricting voters’ ballot access to assuage Republicans who believe the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. 

Critical race theory is a school of academic thought that centers systemic racism in institutions, rather than individuals. Its goal is to frame academics, the legal system and other parts of society through a lens of racism. 

At a news conference Thursday, the cosponsors of the bills went long on rhetoric and short on the actual substance of what the bills would do, nor did they give a definition of critical race theory. Across the country, the theory has become detached from its original meaning and morphed into a catch-all term Republicans use to opine about “wokeness” and anti-racism efforts. 

“What is critical race theory because each school district and teacher teaches what you’re calling critical race theory [as] something different,” Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) said. “So what is critical race theory? We know that theories in education abound. And these bills give the parents the tools to hold their school boards accountable, to challenge what is being taught, or instructed. It is, in many parents’ mind an indoctrination.”

Democrats, who on Thursday introduced a slate of bills aimed at reforming the state’s police, were blunt about what the critical race theory bills mean.

“Unfortunately, there is white supremacy rooting its ugly head in this building, let’s just be honest,” Rep. David Moore (D-Milwaukee) said.

Other Democrats said that Republicans bringing these bills forward said more about them than about Wisconsin’s education system.

“If you hear that schools are teaching students about the evils of racism and its pernicious hold on our society and your response is to get worried or defensive to the point of wanting to cancel it, you need to do some deep introspection,” Rep. Jimmy Anderson (D-Fitchburg) wrote on Twitter.

The legislators did not specify how prevalent the teaching of critical race theory is in Wisconsin schools, but cited concerns from “hundreds” of parents across the state. Last week, the conservative legal Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), released a policy proposal for banning critical race theory from Wisconsin schools. 

The WILL proposal included dozens of examples of school lessons that it found objectionable — including high school students in the Green Bay Area School District taking a modern American history course and learning about the history of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The bills, which have begun circulating for co-sponsorship, would prohibit allowing teachers, professors and instructors from teaching about race or sex stereotyping in Wisconsin’s K-12 public schools, independent charter schools or public universities and technical colleges. The bill was introduced at a news conference Thursday by Wichers, Rep. Rick Gundrum (R-Slinger), Rep. Gae Magnifici (R-Dresser) and Sen. Andre Jacque (R-DePere).

The bill also includes a requirement that all curricula or syllabi be posted online and threatens to cut state aid from colleges and universities that teach about the banned topics. 

Another bill, set to be released later on Thursday, will prohibit certain training for state employees. 

At the news conference, Jacque said that by banning the discussion of these divisive topics, Wisconsin Republicans were honoring Martin Luther King Jr. 

“We’re continuing the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr, and what he expressed that we are trying to judge our children and our children’s children based not on the color of their skin but on the content of their character,” Jacque said. “Critical Race Theory is a complete antithesis of that, so you’ll see the specifics, but basically, you’re not going to be able to, not as putting forward ideas but as curriculum as what is being taught as fact, as the approved method of instruction. This whole idea that it is okay to discriminate or to racially stereotype somebody on the basis of their race or gender.”

Wisconsin is frequently ranked one of the worst states in the country for Black maternal mortality, racial achievement gaps, Black homeownership rates and other metrics that show discrimination. These facts were not mentioned at the news conference