The new academic racism

Governor’s veto lays bare the doubletalk of the CRT crowd

By PATRICK MCILHERAN | February 17, 2022

How hard is it to forbid schools from teaching racism — from teaching children that one race is inherently superior to another race?

It should be easy. No one favors racism. No villain is so universally booed as a racist. No accusation so swiftly makes one an outcast. We’re all anti-racist.

Wisconsin school districts already solemnly commit to racial justice. Our schools already recommend Ibram X. Kendi’s hit book “How to Be an Antiracist.”

Yet when the Legislature tried to identify the kinds of repellently racist ideas we all denounce and bar schools from teaching them, critics (and surprisingly, there were critics) shrieked and Gov. Tony Evers vetoed.

Those critics said the bill was vague and could cause teachers trouble with the most innocuous lessons. But the list of what was off limits was surprisingly specific and limited. Schools could not teach that:

• One race is inherently superior to another.

• An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment on account of race.

• An individual, by virtue of race, is inherently racist or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously.

• Individuals of one race are not able to and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race.

• An individual's moral character is necessarily determined by race.

• An individual, by virtue of race, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race.

• An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual's race.

• Systems based on meritocracy or traits such as a work ethic are racist or are created by individuals of a particular race to oppress individuals of another race.

Evers instead declared the bill would keep schools “from teaching honest, complete facts about important historical topics.”

Which facts, exactly? The measure did not ban anyone from teaching children that Americans once were taught that some people were an inferior race. It banned only teaching that this thinking was right.

This only begins to make sense when you notice how many Wisconsin school districts are stiff-arming parents who question what their schools are teaching. Especially questions about critical race theory, a Marxist dogma that sees everyone as either oppressor or oppressed and assigns these roles by race rather than class. Critical race theory claims that racism is a central feature of America and that private property perpetuates it.

Wherever do parents get the idea that such things are being taught? Our educators feign ignorance. “It’s not part of our curriculum,” Peter Turke, president of the Burlington School Board, said last summer. He said it after Jacob Blake pulled a knife on Kenosha police who then shot him— and a Burlington teacher responded by teaching her fourth-graders that it was all because “most of the people in power who make the rules are white men.”

Alert parents and a few dissident journalists keep digging up cases of kids made to confess “white privilege,” or teachers forced to admit to oppression before renouncing Shakespeare, or ceasing to expect correct answers in math. Still, the dismissive kabuki goes on.

It's a “red herring,” CRT expert Gloria Ladson-Billings reassures us. CRT is misunderstood by people who “don’t really know what it is,” she said.

She insists she teaches it only to her grad students in the UW-Madison School of Education. Of course, those grad students go on to teach would-be teachers how to draw up lesson plans, plans that may or may not explain how white privilege makes suspects pull knives on cops.

“The thing about saying one race is better than the other. I can't find that anywhere,” she told NPR.

Right. Ladson-Billings is a famous scholar whose seminal 1995 paper, “Toward a Critical Race Theory of Education,” explains that society consists of white oppressors and the black oppressed, that racism is a central feature of America, that private property perpetuates it, and that schools should teach accordingly.

Some parents, it seems, have read her work.

Denials such as those by Ladson-Billings are “all wordplay,” said Julie Vierkandt, a mother in Amery who saw too much during the learn-from-home era. She now heads the Polk County Moms for Liberty.

As Vierkandt sees it, our universal revulsion of racism is cover used to slip in unpalatable lessons: “We want kids to be kind, yes, but don’t break them down into small, conflicting groups.”

In other words, just don’t teach children the racist sort of things in that list, which more or less mirrors lists enacted in many other states because many American parents don’t want their kids taught that meritocracy is racist.

Evers’ veto — which in effect gives a green light to schools teaching children that they’re responsible for what people did 170 years ago — bounces the responsibility for not teaching such garbage to school districts. If the state shouldn’t stop a school from teaching kids that their moral character is determined by their race, school districts certainly can. 

How tough would that be?

Pretty tough when you realize that Kendi, the “anti-racist,” says that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination.” Awfully hard when progressives who control education schools do not define racism as you or I do but as an American sin that cannot be absolved and a tool of cultural revolution.

Parents realize that America has flaws. Pioneers who made it to Amery long ago horned in on the indigenous Ojibwe people, who had previously pushed out the indigenous Lakota, Vierkandt says. History is full of flawed peoples.

What parents object to, she says, is children being taught that because of their race they carry with them a particular hereditary evil. We all should object to a new dose of that old poison.

Patrick McIlheran is the Director of Policy at the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.