In recent months, state lawmakers and education policymakers have waded into the ongoing debate over how to teach the nation’s complicated history—and make sense of its present.
A slate of new bills proposed by Republican legislators this session attempt to regulate how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and issues of equality and justice in the classroom. And some state boards of education have adopted rules that would similarly dictate teachers’ practice.
Many of these lawmakers say their proposals are designed to keep critical race theory out of schools. The academic framework, created by legal scholars in the 1970s and 80s, posits that racism isn’t just the product of individual bias—but embedded in legal systems and policies.
As of July 15, 26 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Eleven states have enacted these bans, either through legislation or other avenues.
Over the past year, the idea of critical race theory has become a political flashpoint. While in office, former President Donald Trump pushed for “patriotic education” and accused teachers who discussed racism and bias with students of “left-wing indoctrination.” Last fall, he issued an executive order banning certain types of diversity training for federal employees. Seventeen of the state bills recently introduced use language from this order.
The topic has seen continued attention at the national level, as well:
In June, Republicans in Congress introduced legislation that would cut federal funding for schools that use lessons based on the 1619 Project, a New York Times series that reframes United States history by centering the enduring effects of slavery.
Later that month, Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican from Wisconsin, introduced a bill that would dictate how D.C. public school teachers can discuss racism and sexism.
In July, Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, proposed legislation that would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in schools operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity.
Lawmakers who have authored these bills claim that teachers have adopted the tenets of critical race theory, and are teaching about race, gender, and identity in ways that sow division among students. But opponents claim that such legislation will stifle discussion of how racism and sexism have shaped the country’s past and continue to affect social, political, and economic systems. Some administrators have already said laws like these would halt their efforts to root out racism in schools. And scholars of critical race theory have argued that the laws mischaracterize the framework.