Don’t Ban Critical Race Theory

It’s no secret that I have a lot of issues with Critical Race Theory, but efforts by state legislatures to prohibit it are a mistake.

A fundamental part of being a classical liberal is that we believe in maximum free speech. Let ideas get exposed to lots of healthy debate and the good ones will take hold, while the bad ones will wilt under scrutiny. If I have faith in anything, I have faith in that idea.

That’s why I’m opposed to state legislation aimed at banning Critical Race Theory from public school classrooms. Look folks, if you’re going to be against cancel culture, then you have to be against it even when what’s being cancelled is something you dislike.

According to the Associated Press, legislators in at least 16 states (and now Wisconsin) have passed or are actively considering bills that try to ban CRT. Even if I didn’t oppose this on principle, I’d oppose it because it’s unworkable.

For one thing, CRT is a slippery thing that’s not easily defined in a law. I interpret it as the view that race permeates everything in America and that we are defined by our skin color, not by what we do as individuals. The world is divided into virtuous victims and evil oppressors and you are one or the other based solely on your race.

It’s okay. We can handle the truth.

Those ideas are so full of holes that they form a sort of intellectual colander. Don’t ban it. Bring it on and watch all the water drain out of it.

But what about the notion that we have sanitized too much of our history and that things like Jim Crow, red-lining, the Tulsa Massacre and a lot more should get more attention in curricula? What about the idea that racism is behind more things than we might think? Is that part of Critical Race Theory? If it is, then I’m for it. When I was a kid I learned a lot about how Lincoln freed the slaves, but I didn’t learn much about what it was like to be a slave. That’s just wrong and it should be corrected.

What concerns me isn’t a greater emphasis on America’s misdeeds to balance out what we’ve done right; what concerns me is the redefining of the narrative of America to put racism at the very foundation. So, I find the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which is an extension of CRT and which seeks to redefine the American founding from 1776 and freedom to 1619 and slavery, to be deeply offensive, as well as just plain wrong.

But I wouldn’t ban the 1619 Project (for which the Times has helpfully created study guides) from the classroom either. Which brings me to my next practical point. Teachers have wide discretion in how and what they teach. So, what would happen under one of these state laws if, say, a high school civics teacher had her students read about the 1619 Project and offer their thoughts on it? Are the state police going to storm into the classroom and pull the materials from the students’ hands? Will the teacher be arrested? Have you ever seen Inherit the Wind?

It would be a very bad thing if the next generation of Americans would be taught that their country is rotten to the core and that their own personal actions count for nothing. It would be awful if some of our young people were encouraged to think of themselves as helpless victims while others were taught to feel guilty for things they had no part in. But you have to have some faith in local school boards, individual teachers, parents and students themselves to be able to handle ideas and to sort out what is persuasive and what isn’t. I have a lot more faith in those folks then I do in those geniuses in the Legislature.

What we should want is the truth. We can handle the truth.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

One thought on “Don’t Ban Critical Race Theory

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