Rep. Chuck Wichgers speaks at a press conference introducing his bills banning the teaching of critical race theory in Wisconsin. (Screenshot | WisEye)
Months after they were first introduced, Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature are set to hold a hearing Wednesday on a slate of bills meant to prevent so-called critical race theory from being taught in schools.
At the hearing, the activist responsible for injecting the academic theory into the public consciousness this summer is scheduled to appear.
Critical race theory is a subset of academic teaching, mostly taught at law schools, that centers systemic racism in institutions, rather than individuals. Its goal is to uncover racially discriminatory practices in academia, the legal system and other parts of society. Republicans, as their opposition to the theory hardened this summer in a backlash to the racial reckonings of the past year, say the theory is taught in K-12 schools and teaches white children to hate themselves.
Chris Rufo, a senior fellow at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, is scheduled to speak at Wednesday’s hearing. Through appearances on right wing media such as Fox News and in his combative Twitter account, Rufo injected critical race theory into the broader public debate.
In March, he tweeted that his goal was actually to force any progressive ideas about race under the umbrella of critical race theory to make them unpopular.
“We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” Rufo wrote. “We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”
Rufo’s effort caught on and soon critical race theory was at the forefront of conservative conversations. Lawmakers in a number of states successfully passed bills that banned critical race theory from schools. The law in Texas forbade certain texts from being taught in classrooms. By June the controversy had reached Wisconsin, where legislative Republicans introduced their slate of bills while the right-wing law firm, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, scoured curricula for evidence of liberal indoctrination in Wisconsin schools.
Google trends data shows that before March, critical race theory barely registered as a topic of interest. After a brief spike in mid-March following Rufo’s tweet, the topic reached a fever pitch in June with searches for critical race theory topping the chart.
Months later, while conservative conversation has moved on to other culture-war topics, the Wisconsin bills are set to get a hearing.
Senate Bills 409, 410 and 411 prevent school districts and universities from teaching “that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex and that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex.” The bills also prevent state employees from being required to attend anti-racism training.
If a district violates the law, the proposed legislation mandates that the state superintendent of schools withhold 10% of state aid from that district’s public schools. Parents are also allowed to bring actions against the district if they believe the law has been violated.
Across the country, opponents of similar bills have warned that they could have a chilling effect on classrooms with teachers not knowing if it’s illegal to give lessons on slavery, the civil rights movement or current events.
Also scheduled to appear at Wednesday’s hearing are a research fellow at the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, a staff member at an organization that defends free speech on college campuses and a representative of the University of Wisconsin.
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