States

The Republican Fight Against ‘Critical Race Theory’ Continues As Arkansas Enacts New Ban

By Sarah Schwartz — January 12, 2023 3 min read
Arkansas Gov.-elect Sarah Huckabee Sanders is introduced with husband Bryan, and children Scarlett, George, and Huck prior to taking the oath of the office on the steps of the Arkansas Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Little Rock, Ark.
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On her first day in office, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order banning “indoctrination and critical race theory” in schools—an early sign that Republicans’ attempts to restrict how teachers can discuss race, gender, and politically controversial issues will continue into this year.

The Arkansas order, signed Jan. 11, requires the state education department to audit its policies and materials, removing or altering any that might “promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as CRT, that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law.”

It also prohibits teachers and other public school employees from espousing certain ideas—among them, that people of one race or ethnicity are “inherently superior or inferior” to those of another.

Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack

The map below shows which states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism.
It will be updated as new information becomes available.

Click here for more information on the measures and variations from state to state.

This phrasing echoes language from similar legislation passed in other states over the past two years. It stems from a list of so-called “divisive concepts” originally outlined in a 2020 executive order from then-President Donald Trump, banning certain types of diversity training in federal agencies.

Conservative pundits and advocacy groups claimed that the anti-racism and anti-bias trainings that many organizations—including schools—had begun to roll out in the wake of summer 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests were divisive, stereotyping groups of people based on race and gender and casting guilt on white participants.

They called anti-bias trainings and classroom lessons that taught about racism “critical race theory.” The term refers to an academic theory that holds that racism is perpetuated through systems and structures embedded in U.S. society. But conservative commentators and lawmakers have appropriated it as a negative label, applying it to a host of curricula and classroom conversations that explore the role of race in America’s past and present.

Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would ban critical race theory or “divisive concepts” from the classroom, or otherwise limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Eighteen states—including Arkansas—have imposed those bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues.

The Arkansas order comes after similar legislative proposals failed to pass in 2021. While most of these bans have been passed by state legislatures, Sanders now joins a few governors who have enacted prohibitions on critical race theory in the classroom through an executive order.

Govs. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, both Republicans, also ordered their state education departments to review policies and materials for “divisive concepts.”

States launch renewed attempts to curtail teachers’ speech

In a memo released this week, the Arkansas education department announced plans for a future webinar to provide more information about the order, as well as others that would affect schools.

“We are reviewing the rules, regulations, policies, materials, and communications of the department and will make changes in accordance with the executive order if references are found,” said Kimberly Mundell, a spokeswoman for the education department, in an email.

State education agencies are now being tasked with developing rules for, and enforcing, state laws on classroom speech. In Oklahoma, the education department downgraded the accreditation of two school districts—one of them Tulsa, the state’s largest—after reported violations of HB 1775, a law passed in 2021 that limits how teachers can discuss racism and sexism in class.

While Arkansas was the first state to introduce new restrictions on classroom speech this year, it likely won’t be the last.

In Missouri, lawmakers have introduced three bills that would ban race and sex “stereotyping” and give parents the right to monitor school curricula and other materials. Republicans in the state tried and failed to enact similar legislation in 2022, filing at least 20 related bills last legislative session, none of which passed.

At the same time, another legislator is attempting to strike one of those bans—Oklahoma Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, a Democrat, who introduced a bill that would repeal HB 1775.

“It’s literally a bill created to solve a problem that never was there,” Rosecrants told a local news channel this month. “If there is any kind of indoctrination or anything like that, as a former teacher I can speak to you, you can’t bring politics in the classroom. You never could in the first place.”

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