Determined to distract us from her nepotism and socialist hypocrisy, Governor Noem issued her third culture-war draft legislation since last Monday. Following up on a school prayer bill last Monday and a retread transgender-hate bill last Tuesday, Noem today trumpeted her draft legislation “to block Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the basis of education for South Dakota students.”
But as usual, when Kristi starts talking about fighting “critical race theory”, she’s overtagging every card. Her own fourth chief of staff, now member of the Board of Regents, Tony Venhuizen said last summer: “Critical Race Theory is not the basis for instruction in our state universities and it’s not going to be.” Noem has never provided a specific example of any South Dakota college, high school, or elementary school curriculum based on critical race theory.
But even if some critical race theory is out there, Noem’s bill wouldn’t ban it. Here: read the bill, and see if you can find the part that lives up to Noem’s fanfare and the hopes of her Republican caucus that South Dakota would actually ban critical race theory from our schools:
Noem’s bill does not say, “No one can teach, discuss, or read about critical race theory.” Noem’s bill does not mandate burning every copy of Ibram X. Kendi‘s writing. Noem’s bill does not ban teachers and professors from following the Navy’s lead and requiring every student to read How to Be an Antiracist. Noem’s bill does not stop any instructor from assigning this essay topic: “Give one concrete and detailed example of institutional racism in South Dakota and explain how critical race theory can inform activism and public policy to remedy that institutional racism.”
Perhaps warned by her lawyers that an explicit ban on a valid and useful idea would trigger a 21st-century Scopes Monkey Trial in which Noem and South Dakota would come out looking like the monkeys, Noem does not propose to ban the teaching of critical race theory. Instead, she proposes banning the strange practice—unheard of in most classrooms—of mandating that students “personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to” certain “tenets.”
Tenets. Pause a moment. Think about that word, tenets, and your own education. Can you recall any teacher (other than maybe the nuns at your Catholic school, and they get special dispensation) who forced you to personally affirm any specific philosophical or religious belief?
At Madison High School, Joe Austin didn’t force me to believe in the Pythagorean Theorem; Pythagoras sure helped answer the test questions correctly, but if I walked out of class shouting, “A squared plus B squared equals C squared plus pi!” the venerable Mr. Austin would have invited my proof.
At South Dakota State University, Dr. John Miller didn’t compel me to believe that all valid historical writing must refer to Fighting Bob LaFollette. We students of Dr. Miller were free to more deeply explore Fighting Bob’s legacy or focus our attention on other notable American progressives, conservatives, or cranks.
Kristi Noem went to high school at the same time I did, in a town an hour’s drive away. Kristi Noem got her degree from SDSU, just like I did. Neither Kristi nor I can provide examples of any of our teachers or our kids’ teachers successfully forcing any student to adopt any belief. Yet Kristi thinks she must pass a law to protect kids from this figment of her imagination.
So far down the rabbit hole already, Noem and her supporters will never notice that the actual “tenets” she pretends to ban with her bill are not critical race theory:
- That any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.
- That individuals should be adversely treated or feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin.
- That individuals, by virtue of race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin [ideas Kristi Noem would ban from South Dakota schools, in Noem, 2021.12.20].
I can think of no example in which any teacher in South Dakota has tried to compel me or any student I know to believe such strange ideas. I can think of no instance when I have, as a teacher in any South Dakota classroom, or any other teacher I know has required any student to ascribe to any such strange idea. If anyone is preaching such strange ideas, it may be Kristi Noem herself, who lords her religion over every public school child, who discomfits and dehumanizes people of non-American national origin, and who marks as enemies of “fairness” South Dakotans whose conception of their own sex does not align with her binary thinking.
Maybe we could expand Kristi Noem’s bill to protect us from Kristi Noem.
But we must be clear about one thing: Kristi’s three taboo tenets are not critical race theory. As I said when the Board of Regents evaded Noem’s push to ban valid social theories last summer, critical race theory is all about rejecting claims of superiority or inferiority inherent in any racial identification. Critical race theory does not seek to blame individuals; critical race theory seeks to liberate all individuals from oppressive systems. That liberation depends on an honest recognition of unpleasant historical facts which may well cause anguish among those properly sensitive to injustice or those previously desensitized to injustice by their privilege-colored glasses, but that anguish is a side effect, not the ultimate aim, of critical race theory.
Even if Noem understood what critical race theory is, she could not find any actual critical race theory in our schools to attack. But she’s not really talking about critical race theory or anything else that South Dakota teachers are doing or even could do if they tried. She’s just cooking up crazy talk to keep her fellow-ill-read Republicans in a froth, hoping no one notices that she’s tilting at her own windmills.
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- I do like the line in Section 2 that prohibits distinguishing or classifying students according to race or color. I would interpret that to mean that the next time white fans start shouting racial epithets at any school activity or on school grounds, aggrieved parties could call the Governor, who would be obliged to demand that the hosting university or school district return all of its state funding. Providing a forum for such racist classification from the bleachers clearly violates Section 3, and the Governor must hold schools accountable for violating her law.
- On the bright side, Team Noem appears to have figured out how to post PDFs to their own state website instead of using a private vendor who forced citizens to sift through Gucci ads to access public information.