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“Teach the Controversy” on Critical Race Theory and Even Good Republicans Will See Republicans Are Wrong

Representative Phil Jensen’s (R-33/Hisega) retread creationism-cloaking House Bill 1172 squeaked out of House Education Friday on an 8–7 vote of Republicans who think there is some “controversy” about “science” that teachers are unwilling to teach without Legislative compulsion.

Of course, these are the same Republicans who will hear Governor Kristi Noem’s bills (now plural! HB 1012 + HB 1337!) seeking to “protect” students from discussing the “controversy” over her misportrayed scarecrow version of “critical race theory” As I suggested Tuesday in my discussion of Jensen’s HB 1172, if Republicans really hold a consistent commitment to protecting teachers’ right to lead students through rigorous, analytical discussions of topics about which there is legitimately debatable controversy, they should reject any calls to ban the teaching of certain historical, political, and sociological concepts. Quite to the contrary, they should immediately amend HB 1172 to extend Jensen’s professed love of academic freedom for K-12 science teachers to all South Dakota educators, elementary, secondary, and collegiate, in all subjects and allow students to confront evidence of systemic racism and social injustice and other potentially “divisive concepts” with unfettered intellectual inquiry and guidance from their expert instructors.

A young, white, conservative Republican in Mississippi, Brittany Murphree, put this kind of intellectual courage into practice last month when she enrolled the University of Mississippi Law School’s “Law 743: Critical Race Theory”:

…Murphree wanted to know what the “hotly debated topic” was really about. “Law 743: Critical Race Theory” is the only law class in Mississippi solely dedicated to teaching the high-level legal framework. To Murphree, the class seemed like an opportunity — one she might not get again.

“I’m either gonna completely agree with this, or I’m gonna be able to say, ‘No, this class is terrible,’” she told her friends. “The best way to have an opinion about this class is literally to take it” [Molly Minta, “Inside Mississippi’s Only Class on Critical Race Theory,” Mississippi Today, 2022.02.02].

Murphree started the class with Professor Yvette Butler and was surpised and excited by what she learned in the work of critical race theory founder Derrick Bell:

In the article, titled “Serving Two Masters,” Bell lays the groundwork for one of his most notable arguments: By and large, school desegregation was a failure. Brown v. Board of Education, he argues, was in many ways harmful to Black communities across the country. As Black schools closed, Black teachers, principals, bus drivers and custodians lost their jobs. Bussed to white schools, Black children were more likely to be beaten, arrested, and expelled than their white peers. As a lawyer for the NAACP, Bell had sued for desegregation; in “Serving Two Masters,” he was wondering if that was the right tactic after all.

Murphree found the article astonishing. She had thought critical race theory was focused on critiquing the actions of white people, not scrutinizing the decisions and tactics of Black civil rights attorneys. She found her other readings just as surprising. Lawmakers were wrong to call critical race theory “Marxist,” she learned, because the framework was actually a rejection of legal theories that had centered class and sidelined race [Minta, 2022.02.02].

Amidst the eye-opening readings and class discussions she was enjoying, Murphree saw her Republican State Senate had passed a bill to ban discussion of critical race theory at all Mississippi schools, including her university.

The more Murphree thought about the bill, the angrier she got. In just two weeks of taking Law 743, she had been introduced to ideas she never before considered. She learned there were activists and academics who were critical of school integration and the way it had been enforced. She gained a new perspective on racial progress in America. And she still had a whole semester left of issues that no longer felt intimidating but urgent to learn — implicit bias in policing, affirmative action, and reparations.

“Why are they so fearful of people just theorizing and just thinking,” she thought. “We’re not going to turn into, like, communists. Y’all chill out” [Minta, 2022.02.02].

Murphree thus responded the way Republicans fear smart students will respond when they get a chance to look beyond GOP propaganda and engage in honest study and debate: she wrote a letter telling her legislators that they are wrong:

That Sunday, Murphree watched the footage of the Senate vote to pass SB 2113. As every Black senator in Mississippi walked out of the chamber in protest, Murphree decided that she, too, would take a radical step, one she knew would likely end her dream of working in local Republican politics. She opened up a Microsoft Word document and started writing.

“To date, this course has been the most impactful and enlightening course I have taken throughout my entire undergraduate career and graduate education at the State of Mississippi’s flagship university,” she began.

“The prohibition of courses and teachings such as these is taking away the opportunity for people from every background and race to come together and discuss very important topics which would otherwise go undiscussed.

I believe this bill not only undermines the values of the hospitality state but declares that Mississippians are structured in hate and rooted in a great deal of ignorance.”

She asked a friend who works in the state Capitol to read it over. Then she addressed the letter to all 27 members of the Mississippi House Education Committee, attached it to an email, and hit send [Minta, 2022.02.02].

Phil Jensen, Kristi Noem, and other “conservatives” seem to have a selective, self-serving view of when the state should intervene to ensure academic freedom and intellectual inquiry. Unable to defend their rickety worldview in the marketplace of ideas, these “conservatives” seek government mandates to protect the teaching of their own bad, disproven ideas, but then they seek government mandates to get rid of ideas, books, and teachers that disrupt their thinking.

Jensen, Noem, and the SDGOP don’t want to teach any controversy. They want to indoctrinate students against any controversy.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-02-06 09:30

    The extreme white wing of the Republican Party wants a not so civil war over CRT because the oligarchs who control the stooges in the South Dakota Republican Party fear an admission of guilt implies liability and they will be compelled to pay reparations to Indigenous and to the descendants of enslaved people.

  2. All Mammal 2022-02-06 11:17

    No true American deprives their fellow American of freedom. Real Americans do not fear the spread of intellectual liberty.

    Only low-frequency, scared, insecure, pitiful, weak, sick little creeps would try to oppress inquiry and discourse.

    Seems there is a festering nest of anti-American frauds sitting in Pierre, cowering in fear of being found out. The question isn’t what to ban in school. The question is: why are our lawmakers so afraid of free, empowered people? Something very perverted is at the root of depriving people freedom of thought.

    True Americans aren’t afraid of the past. Real Americans never deprive their people of the truth.

  3. Mark Anderson 2022-02-06 11:23

    Well Cory, the Republicans simply want to put people in their place again. They fail to realize they’ve already lost that battle.

  4. larry kurtz 2022-02-06 11:52

    Professor Frank Pommersheim is one voice the nut wing of Lee Schoenbeck’s party would like to silence.

    One way to address the difficulty and complexity would be the proposal and adoption of a separate ‘H.R. 40’ for Indigenous peoples reparations with its own commission to study and develop reparations proposals and to make recommendations to Congress on appropriate remedies and other actions.
    Such an approach holds the best possibility of developing a simultaneous, powerful, and parallel engagement with these founding traumas.
    Despite being common victims of vicious and continuous systemic white cruelty and government-sanctioned violence, African-Americans and Indigenous peoples are often depicted as largely separated from and unknown to each other. But that is the complicity of shadows.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2022-02-06 14:54

    Well….nothing wrong at all with “Critical Race Theory”. Like most theories it provides an explanation for why the status quo exists, in this case, why the economic and social status of African American people in this country has taken so long to improve as segregation of various types continues in law and social custom. The same could be said for poor people generally as we have removed the economic ladder of upward mobility to create a permanent hierarchy…what could be called the American royalty. It’s complicated and took over 200 years to evolve. We now live in the America Hamilton envisioned rather than the nation of small landowners envisioned by Jefferson. We live in a stratified caste system based on race and economics. I have some hope that the younger generation may demand some societak change and stand for justice.

  6. Porter Lansing 2022-02-06 19:00

    – Tribal reparations will be handled in a similar way as child support extracted from a negligent parent.
    – The money USA sends to South Dakota annually will cease and be directed to tribal organizations, instead.
    – When Indian reparations have been sufficiently addressed South Dakota can show Washington why it needs a handout and those requests will be investigated for validity.

  7. Arlo Blundt 2022-02-06 19:09

    Porter…you should preface your last remarks with “When I rule the world..”

  8. grudznick 2022-02-06 19:18

    Mr. Lansing, are you high on the demon weed? You are more demented than our good friend Mr. Evans in your typings. For when Mr. Evans is the Cannabis King of the Dakotas, he will rule the toking and smoking or even those of you fellows who chaw that stuff between your lip and gum.

  9. ABC 2022-02-06 19:55

    “On 31 May 1979, Ian Smith left the stage as Prime Minister on the last day of white rule in Rhodesia. His legacy was a state unrecognised by the international community, subjected to trade boycotts, and a country ravaged by civil war.”

    June 1979–Rhodesia disappears, Zimbabwe starts. January 1, 1979, Harvey Wollman leaves the Governor’s mansion, the last Democratic Governor in South Dakota.
    You might scratch your head.
    It’s a timeline. SD has been “run” (never owned) by the Right of Center, Republicans since 1979. Since mid 1979, Rhodesia has disappeared and was replaced by Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

    Our state has devolved into a One Party state. Rhodesia turned from a whites only Government to a country that is trying to recover from Mugabe’s mismanage ment.
    When your off the stage for so long, Democratic Party, look at the time span! We’ve been a state for 133 years, 43 years (1/3) with no Opposition Governors!

    I don’t see any sense of urgency in the Democratic Party to change this. HQ in Sioux Falls? Website that is an e-mail capture site. Many counties don’t have any County Chairs. Clearly, they are not ready to take power.

    Jamie Smith needs to run a wizardly campaign on an order of or above Obama’s 2008 campaign for the Presidency,in order to win.
    He needs 15 000 extra votes to win against Noem by 3,000 votes (if we go by Sutton’s 2018 run).
    Rapid City and Ha Ha Mini County have to go Blue.

    I dont know how this can happen. Perhaps a Progressive-Democratic Coalition.?

    In Zimbabwe many whites and farmers got murdered by a One Party regime. SD under White Republican Party? We can do much better than this!

    Who is trying?

  10. Porter Lansing 2022-02-06 20:09

    Got your goats, huh boys?
    It’s going to happen, and your white privilege will be flushed down the sewer like so much toilet paper.

  11. DaveFN 2022-02-06 23:55

    If I’ve said it once—and I have— I’ll say it again. CRT is nothing less and nothing more than an example of a broader category of critical thinking in general, namely, examination which holds us to a standard of questioning of our received ideas which latter subject us to all kinds of misconceptions. We are not transparent to ourselves, our received ideas notwithstanding which would convince us otherwise.

  12. O 2022-02-07 11:15

    Our classrooms should discuss the controversy of covalent pair bonding, but not institutional racism?

  13. Robbinsdale Radical 2022-02-07 17:24

    – Unable to defend their rickety worldview in the marketplace of ideas

    Wow Cory, you really focused in on a truth there.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2022-02-07 17:36

    RR, Republicans are the Communists of ideas. They don’t want the marketplace to decide which ideas sink or swim; they want the state to hold a monopoly on the production and distribution of thought.

  15. larry kurtz 2022-02-07 18:17

    In South Dakota local control is Republican control, police unions get the cash while teachers’ unions get the shaft and freedom is just another word for nothing left to choose, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

  16. Kurt Evans 2022-02-07 22:19

    “grudznick” writes:

    For when Mr. Evans is the Cannabis King of the Dakotas, he will rule the toking and smoking or even those of you fellows who chaw that stuff between your lip and gum.

    Cannabis is generally none of the government’s business and generally none of mine.

    “O” writes:

    Our classrooms should discuss the controversy of covalent pair bonding, but not institutional racism?

    Beyond basic literacy and basic mathematics, the people who use our classrooms should pay for them.

    Have you seen any of my responses to your starlight question?

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