Kentucky Lawmaker Wants To Make Teaching Critical Race Theory Illegal

Jun 3, 2021

Rep. Joe Fisher (R-Ft. Thomas)
Credit KET screenshot

A Kentucky state lawmaker has proposed a measure that would make schools subject to fines and teachers subject to discipline if they talk about systemic racism in a certain way. 

Fort Thomas Republican Rep. Joe Fischer pre-filed the bill ahead of the next legislative session. It takes aim at critical race theory: the idea that racism is perpetuated on a systemic level. The framework has been around for decades, but it gained more attention after last year’s calls for racial justice.

Now those ideas are facing a conservative backlash, including from Kentucky conservatives like Fischer.

“[Critical race theory] is a powerful tool for those who seek to divide us into categories and destroy the very institutions that have seen generations of Americans of all races and backgrounds build successful futures,” Fischer said in a statement emailed from the House Speaker’s office Wednesday." class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">

Four GOP-led state legislatures, including in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee have already passed laws limiting how teachers can talk about systemic racism. 

While Fischer said his bill is aimed at banning critical race theory, many concepts it would prevent public schools from promoting are not part of the critical race theory framework. Those include: 

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
  • An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously; 
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex 
  • An individual’s moral character is determined by his or her race or sex 
  • An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
  •  An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex
  • Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government

By contrast, Georgetown University professor Janel George describes critical race theory as the recognition that our ideas of racial difference have been socially constructed.

“It acknowledges how that social construction of race has shaped America and how systems and institutions can do the bulk of replicating racial inequality,” she writes.

For example, critical race theory is often used to examine the criminal legal system, which disproportionately incarcerates Black people and other people of color.

The bill would also prohibit schools from teaching that the state or the country “is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”

The measure would allow “citizens” within the school district to file complaints about alleged violations of these rules, and give the attorney general the authority to withhold $5,000 a day from the district until the alleged violation stops. It would also allow for discipline of school employees who violate the rules.

The bill drew swift criticism from educators on social media.

“This is not only educational censorship, but a reaffirmation of white supremacy by barring teachers from discussing it in a substantive way,” University of Louisville Pan-African Studies Department Chair Ricky Jones tweeted.

“I oppose efforts to limit free speech and the exchange of ideas in our classrooms. I also oppose state-level and politically-driven efforts to micromanage our local classroom teachers,” Kentucky Education Commissioner Jason Glass said in a statement posted on Twitter by a department spokesperson.

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said he had no opinion when asked about the bill Wednesday. 

But McConnell has expressed concerns about the 1619 Project. The senator has been outspoken in his criticism of the essay collection and podcast, which looks at the contributions and struggles of Black people in America, from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619.

The Pulitzer Center has also created a school curriculum based on the 1619 Project, which the Biden administration suggested schools can use to teach about systemic racism. Now the project and the curriculum are drawing fire from conservatives.

“I think trying to completely denigrate and downgrade American historical moments like 1776, 1787, 1965—critical moments—is a mistake,” McConnell said. “But I don’t think the government is any better at prescribing what ought to be taught.”

In a press release, Fischer said he filed his bill request after Highlands High School in Fort Thomas considered including critical race theory in the 2021-2022 curriculum. The local School-Based Decision Making Council ultimately rejected the proposal, he said.