Republicans in Wisconsin are attempting to ban specific terms in K-12 classrooms, including “white privilege,” “diversity” and “woke.”
Like many Republican-led legislatures across the country, the Wisconsin legislature is seeking to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, a decades-old academic framework for examining the law which seeks to understand how race and gender shape policies in the United States. But by trying to prohibit social justice-oriented language in classrooms, Wisconsin Republicans are taking the censorship one step further.
Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R-Muskego) authored the bill, which passed the state Assembly on Wednesday. He justified its passage by making a number of errant claims about critical race theory, wrongly implying that the framework teaches that white people are inherently racist.
“A growing number of school districts are teaching material that attempts to redress the injustice of racism and sexism by employing racism and sexism, as well as promoting psychological distress in students based on these immutable characteristics,” Wichgers claimed. “No one should have to undergo the humiliation of being told that they are inferior to someone else.”
The legislation put forward by Wichgers and endorsed by his fellow lawmakers would make teaching far more difficult for educators, as it prohibits them from saying terms that are needed to present a factual account of U.S. and Wisconsin history.
If the bill became law, it would ban teachers from including words like “structural bias,” “systemic racism,” “multiculturalism,” “social justice,” and “patriarchy” in their lessons. The bill also disallows teaching about the concept of “white supremacy” — despite ongoing racial oppression in the United States, and the fact that the country was built on slavery and genocide.
In addition to these terms being banned, teachers and school staff would not be allowed to receive training on ideas that include the restricted words and concepts.
Under the bill, any school district that includes these words and concepts in the curricula or that permits their educators to receive training deemed unlawful would lose state funding to the tune of 10 percent of what they ordinarily receive.
Democratic lawmakers in the state derided the proposed bill, which now goes to the Republican-led state Senate, as unnecessary and wrong-headed.
“This is a Republican attempt to defund education by usurping local district policies and entangling school districts, as well as independent charter schools, in lawsuits based solely on opinions and not facts,” said Rep. LaKeshia Myers (D-Milwaukee).
Myers also released a press release about the bill after it passed in the Assembly, saying that the legislation “should be called the ‘White Supremacy Preservation Package of 2021.'”
The authors claim the bills are against the teaching of Critical Race Theory — a legal doctrine they have consistently mis-characterized — but they are in effect the centerpieces of a concerted GOP effort to roll back the clock and return us to a time when racial inequity, sexual assault, and strictly Eurocentric ideas were commonplace.
It’s unlikely that classrooms in Wisconsin will be regulated in such extreme ways anytime soon, however. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat who was once a teacher himself, is expected to veto the bill if it passes the Senate and reaches his desk.