Dear School Boards, Administrators, and Concerned Parents of Wisconsin:
It has come to our attention that, in the guise of providing (unsolicited) advice, the Wisconsin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to district administrators purporting to tell them what the law “requires” that they teach about race and related matters of cultural diversity. If the point of the letter is to simply remind districts of the commonplace: that they should continue to teach American history in full, including things like the existence of slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, the civil rights movement and the substantial contributions of racial minorities to American culture and success, it is, if unnecessary, unobjectionable. Schools should do all of these things.
But it would be naïve to believe that the ACLU’s objectives are that modest. The “advice” is expressly offered in the context of criticisms of and efforts to restrict the use of concepts derived from Critical Race Theory and adjacent ideologies, clearly implying that state law must somehow “mandate” or limit the restriction of these concepts. It does not.
Let’s begin by defining “Critical Race Theory” and the instructional concepts derived from it. While a full explication of these concepts is not needed for our purposes, what characterizes these concepts is a focus on racial essentialism (the idea that persons are substantially defined by their race), an exaggerated standpoint epistemology (the idea that one’s perspective is substantially formed by his or her race), an emphasis on something called white privilege (the idea that all white persons benefit from a generally undefined “systemic racism”) and the assumption of black oppression (the contention that all black persons are substantially burdened by this systemic racism). They often include concepts of collective guilt or responsibility on the one hand and collective victimhood and entitlement on the other. They are generally combined with a series of contested claims about American history.
These concepts sometimes include the identification of “white” and “black” values and culture, suggesting, for example, that things like “objective, rational, linear thinking,” “quantitative emphasis,” and “hard work before play” are ‘white.” They are sometimes taught by pedagogical devices that segregate children by race and compel them to repeat or assent to a variety of contested propositions about race and a child’s “role” in “systems” of “racism” and “oppression.” They are often not limited to the provision of information or explanation of a perspective, but include a call for action. These devices may include, for example, requiring a white student to “acknowledge” or “affirm” his or her “privilege.”
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