Wyoming bill would ban critical race theory in schools
After reviewing the bill, Schwartz found provisions unacceptable, such as one that allowed “controversial aspects of history” to be taught only “from a holistic point of view, a comprehensive, neutral and unbiased perspective of the subject or prism”.
“But how is that possible?” he asked his fellow lawmakers, adding that would be difficult for Native Americans and black Americans to accept.
“I am Jewish and cannot accept a neutral and non-judgmental approach to the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.
Schwartz also pointed to a line in the bill that stated that no one should feel discomfort or distress when learning about difficult times in history.
“Learning about the Holocaust, I suffered a lifetime of discomfort and distress,” he said. “It is essential that as students learn about this dark period in our history, they feel discomfort and distress.”
He insisted that the House vote “no” on the bill. Many of his fellow Republicans did.
The bill did not pass a first round. However, a bill that defines the limits of teaching critical race theory has advanced in the Senate.
Wyoming joins many conservative-run states that target critical race theory through the legal system, introducing legislation banning the academic concept teaching that many American institutions are steeped in racism and racist thinking, which leads to mixed results for many non-white Americans.
Many conservative leaders think this means blaming white people and making young white boys and girls aware of their whiteness because they fundamentally don’t understand the academic notion. Nine states have passed laws against critical race theory, and more than a dozen more are considering similar legislation, according to the Brookings Institutiona liberal-leaning political think tank.
More than a dozen states have guidelines or laws on how race can be taught in schools, with some adding complaint systems. The guidelines have left many educators worried about breaking rules they often don’t fully understand, The Washington Post previously reported.
Back in Wyoming, Schwartz said critical race theory isn’t an issue in his state or others because it’s not a subject taught in any K-12 system, a-t he told the Post.
“It was important to speak out against – and defeat – the bill because the teaching of history should not be limited by legislatures for political purposes, but taught in a way without limits that offers lessons important to students,” he said.
Rep. Chuck Gray (R), who drafted the House measure, told the Post it was “disappointing” to see his bill fail because critical race theory “is a belief system totally inconsistent with our Wyoming values.”
Gray also said Schwartz’s summaries of the bill were “inaccurate.”
His bill would have prohibited public schools from teaching that a person’s race or ethnicity makes them “inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, consciously or unconsciously.”
It would also prohibit teaching “that the United States is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.”
Any “aggrieved person” could have sued for a potential violation, the bill says, and teachers, administrators or districts who violated the ordinance could have been fined up to $5,000.
This bill would also have required a state agency to submit a compliance report to the governor and the legislature each year.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Troy McKeown (right), would make “study and devotion to American institutions and ideals” mandatory in all public schools and colleges.
McKeown did not respond to a request for comment.
“‘The American institution and ideals’ must not include the divisive tenets often described as ‘critical race theory’ or a ‘critical theory’ social philosophy that stirs up divisions on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin, or other criteria contrary to the unity of the nation and the welfare of the State of Wyoming and its people », Senate bill says.
This compulsory study can begin as early as kindergarten.
Republican Senator Lynn Hutchings, who represents Cheyenne, said the bill’s limits were necessary because some educators want to go beyond their scope, according to Wyoming Public Media.
“It’s divisive and, to me, it’s scary. Because what he basically does is turn the tables. It allows people of color to discriminate against white people…and to me that’s wrong,” Hutchings said, according to the news channel.
McKeown’s bill could clear the Senate this week.
Wyoming consistently ranks among the states with the highest percentage of white Americans. Nearly 93% of its residents identify as white, while people of other races or those who are of two additional races make up just 7% of the population, according to the latest census data.
Schwartz’s statements to the legislature have been credited with changing the votes of his many conservative colleagues, but those who spoke with The Post shared more nuanced and practical reasons for not voting for the bill.
Representative Jamie Flitner (R) told the Post that she trusts parents and educators to handle curriculum issues at the local level.
“I never want to criminalize educators, nor do I agree with mandates or bans,” she said. “Representative Schwartz’s words were remarkable. I had the privilege of being present. I wouldn’t say what he said contributed to how I voted on the bill, but they were certainly worth hearing and added a lot to the debate.
Rep. Dan Zwontizer (right) shared similar sentiments, saying that as a former government and history student at Georgetown University, who now teaches political science as an adjunct, he “s’ firmly oppose[s] to a legislative body dictating an agenda based on an ideology.
“The Wyoming Constitution prohibits the legislature from choosing the curriculum; I believe it falls under this constitutional prohibition,” he said and added that to his knowledge, critical race theory was not an issue anywhere in Wyoming until last year.
For Rep. Robert Wharff (R), listening to teachers and former teachers in his district influenced his “No” vote.
Goshen County Republican Shelly Duncan told the Post that bills introduced during budget season should be budget-related or have necessary urgency. Bills like the one introduced by Gray should be considered during the interim rather than in a budget session.
Duncan said she understands that Critical Race Theory is a senior level course taught at some universities and that there has been “no attempt to use or teach any of this at an elementary level or high school in Wyoming,” she said. “Rep. Schwartz gave very compelling testimony and the story question is uncomfortable and often ugly.