Almost one hundred years ago, Clarence Darrow challenged Tennessee law which prohibited the teaching of evolution. This became known as the “Scopes Monkey Trial”; the defendant was a high school science teacher.
Ninety years ago, with the explicit support of Hitler’s regime, the Nazi German Student Union rounded up any books written by Jewish, leftist, pacifist, or religious authors calling them “Un-German.” On May 10, 1933, they burned them – 25,000 volumes.
Some 10 years later, George Orwell wrote and published “1984,” presenting a future society in which truth telling and freedom of expression are suppressed under a totalitarian government that controls through mass surveillance.
Fast forward to today – an unimagined time in which teaching of any aspect of our racially troubled history that could “cause an individual discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of the individual’s race or sex” is to be prohibited. This time the Thought Police are Citizens for Renewing America, Moms for Liberty, and the American Legislative Exchange Council.
In five states, legislatures have passed bills similar to Wisconsin’s SB/AB 411, and more are considering it, according to a June NBC News report. If passed into law, the bill would limit “anti-racism and anti-sexism pupil instruction and anti-racism and anti-sexism training for employees of school districts and independent charter schools” and further require school districts to post all curricula used in schools … and “provide a printed copy of any curriculum that it is required to post on its Internet site, at no cost to the requester.”
The state recently passed the Holocaust Education Bill, developed with assistance from the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, to educate Wisconsin’s students about the horrors of the Shoah. Now, the state is to take a step backwards. The bill on anti-racism and anti-sexism, SB/AB411, seeks to deny the historic truth of the treatment the of people of color. Under the guise of protecting children, the bill is being considered to address the fears of white parents while disregarding the “comfort or anguish” that students of color experience every time they or the history of structural racism in the U.S. That history includes being torn from Africa to being enslaved in the American South, denigrated by Jim Crow, terrorized by white citizens, denied the vote, deprived of wealth by discriminatory employment, housing and lending practices. It is to be silenced in classrooms.
Supporters of these bills, sponsored by Sen. Andre Jacque and Rep. Chuck Wichgers, both Republicans, who have weaponized the concept of Critical Race Theory. They have asserted incorrectly that teachers who, following state mandated history and critical thinking teaching standards by providing students with texts and experiences meant to examine our racially troubled history, are in fact teaching Critical Race Theory. Rather, Critical Race Theory is an examination of racial disparities that came from legal proceedings.
A joint hearing of the Wisconsin Legislature’s Education Committees was held at the state Capitol on Aug. 11. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel described the hearing as “not pretty,” and reported that Sen. Johnson and Rep. Myers, both Black legislators, were “shut down [by the co-chair Jeremy Thiensfeldt] in the middle of testimony that aimed to get at whether or not systemic racism exists.”
In her testimony, first grade MPS teacher Angela Harris read from Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail : “the greatest threat to Black Americans is not outright racists, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
Local opposition to these bills has come from The Milwaukee Teacher Education Association, Local 212 of the American Federation of Teachers, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Milwaukee Congregations Allied for Hope and Milwaukee’s Black Educators’ Caucus among others.
This legislation runs counter to our Jewish values, to the lessons of history and to common sense. It must not pass.
Eva Hagenhofer is co-chair of Congregation Sinai’s social justice committee. Opinion pieces in the Chronicle, like this one, represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily representative of the opinions of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle
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Anti-racism education bill
The bill, SB/AB 411, bans Wisconsin teachers from teaching a variety of concepts, among them:
- One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
- An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other individuals of the same race or sex.
- Systems based on meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or are created by individuals of a particular race to oppress individuals of another race.
Violations can lead to some state funding withheld or a parent’s lawsuit against the school board, according to the language of the bill. The bill has not yet come for a full vote before the state Senate, but it passed in the Assembly in September. It would require the signature of Gov. Tony Evers to become law.