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360: The debate over Critical Race Theory legislation in Wisconsin

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Posted at 6:55 AM, Jun 24, 2021

MILWAUKEE — Wisconsin has joined the list of states considering bills that would ban teaching ideas linked to Critical Race Theory. Debates over how race, gender and sex are talked about in classrooms have dominated school board meetings for months.

According to the American Bar Association, Critical Race Theory "critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers."

What is critical race theory

In Wisconsin, proposed legislation would prohibit public schools from teaching that one sex or race is superior, that a person is inherently racist by virtue of his or her race or sex, and that anyone bears responsibility for past acts committed by other people of the same race or sex.

However, some worry about the impact of the proposed rules.

To fully understand the conversation, we are going 360. We will hear from the chairwoman of the Black Educators Caucus who shares why she believes the bill is too vague and is unnecessary.

We also speak to one of the state representatives who co-sponsored the bill being considered and from another state representative who worries the bill will hinder the way school districts teach history.

However, we start with the perspective of a local mom, who says critical race theory has no place in the classrooms of her children.

Introductions

"I think there's a huge disconnect between what it actually looks like in the classroom and what’s being shared with the public," said Emily Donohue. Her kids attend school in the Elmbrook School District and she supports the bill that has been introduced, which would bar the use of critical race theory in school lessons.

Donohue worries that teachings linked to Critical Race Theory undo the work of responsible parents and can push negative and derogatory stereotypes.

"Each parent is going to know what's going to be the right time to talk about those things and each family has their own flavor of what that looks like based on their faith and their family dynamic and their family experience," said Donohue.

One of her main concerns is that schools will send messages that a person is inherently an oppressor or is inherently oppressed based on the color of their skin.

Legislation Bullet Points

"There is no authority, there are ideologies, they’re coming together and they’re coming to one conclusion," said State Representative Chuck Wichgers. He co-sponsored the legislation that is being proposed.

Wichgers says critical race theory is a broad term and that's why he supports the proposed ban.

"What we can do is we can ensure that they’re not telling somebody that because of their DNA, or their birth, or their skin color that they are racist. That is not what should being taught in schools," said Wichgers.

But, Angela Harris, chairwoman of the Black Educators Caucus, says that isn't what's being taught. She now worries this type of legislation could impact the important conversations happening around race and gender in the classroom.

"When you really think about it, the language is extremely vague. What does that mean? Is that a person's perception of what's being taught, or is that the actual scope and sequencing of a lesson, so to speak," said Harris.

She said she agrees that parents should be leading these conversations at home, but she thinks they must happen in schools as well.

"Our classrooms are reflections of our community. So, if those are conversations that are happening at home, then it would only be natural that those conversations would then occur within our classroom spaces," said Harris.

That's also why Democratic State Representative David Bowen disagrees with the Republicans who are proposing the changes.

"It is so important that we get to dive into authentic education," said Bowen.

He says the legislation could hurt progress.

"I really disagree with my colleagues to be able to say that we need to go in the direction of hiding these conversations, hiding and hindering school districts from determining out their own how they will educate our young people," said Bowen.

Supporters of the bill say ultimately what the new law would do is give power back to parents, giving more authority to file complaints over what's being taught in the classroom, and if a district is found in violation of the wall, the state superintendent would have the power to withhold ten percent of the district's state aid until that issue was fixed.

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