Debate over Critical Race Theory in Wisconsin schools continues in legislative hearing

MADISON, Wis — The Republican controlled Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges held a hearing on the role of Critical Race Theory in higher education Wednesday.

Wisconsin state lawmakers heard testimony from invited speakers for more than three hours on whether the theory, which puts forward the idea that racism isn’t just based on individual beliefs or actions but is also embedded in institutions of law, health and finance, should be taught even at the university level.

“What you see also in many programs in higher education and K-12 is this idea of the principle of collective guilt,” said Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Chris Rufo. “Where if you share the same ancestry as someone who committed a historical crime or injustice you should inherently feel a sense of guilt, shame or responsibility.”

Rufo claims the problem with teaching the theory even at the university level is that it has trickle down effects because he fears those students could become teachers in Wisconsin Schools.

Fellow CRT critic and American Enterprise Institute Research Fellow Max Eden argued that universities who teach the theory embolden teachers to become agents of social change instead of educators.

“How do we kind of reset the default moral clock of school leaders to the point where telling–instructing kids to think about their white privilege would be as morally unthinkable as instructing black kids to think about some undesirable quality that they have?” he said.

UW System representatives speaking at the hearing argued that curriculums that explored CRT were present mostly in legal graduate level courses and that the theory was never presented as a matter of fact.

“Taught doesn’t mean indoctrinate, taught means let’s put this on the table and argue about it,” said UW-Madison Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning John Zumbrunnen. “It would be to assign that work as part of an array of readings that we would get together about and critically interrogate because that’s what we do at that level.”

UW-Plateville Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies Dr. Frank King Jr. argued before the committee that the debate isn’t really about CRT but about how race and racism is taught in our schools.

“Individuals create this narrative of trying to say that my identity as an American–getting rid of our traditions and our values are being attacked and I think that winds up becoming the main focus of any time –of controversy–when we talk about systemic racism in our society,” King said.

He said students need the tools to interact with diverse communities in their personal and professional lives which means gaining cultural awareness and understanding power dynamics.

King also said banning nuanced discussion on systemic racism would itself be indoctrinating students and disallow them to develop critical thinking skills.

A Republican led bill that would ban schools from teaching students and training employees about these concepts is moving forward, despite the opposition of democratic legislators, though it is likely to be vetoed by Governor Tony Evers.