West Virginia seeks to end the use of harmful stereotypes in public education with help from Pacific Legal Foundation

February 23, 2022 | By BRITTANY HUNTER

Imagine being taught from an early age to reduce a person’s identity or worth to immutable characteristics over which they have no power, particularly race and gender.

This is a trend rapidly taking hold of the public education system.

But PLF is helping state lawmakers craft legislation that will stop the worst type of harmful stereotyping in K-12 schools and shift the focus in K-12 education back to individuals, starting with West Virginia.

Adults with finely tuned critical-thinking skills may be able to quickly find the flaws in ideologies that view people only in terms of the groups with which they share non-essential traits. But for children who are still building these skills, understanding the danger of this mentality isn’t so easy.

This is precisely why it is all the more concerning that what’s been labeled critical race theory (CRT) and related sex- and race-based educational teachings have become a focal point of K-12 curricula. Worse still, many parents have been kept in the dark about what is being taught to their children.

These sex- and race-based educational theories are supported by an ideological movement that views all human relationships through the lens of race, sex, or other immutable characteristics. And a central, outrageous element of these theories is to categorize all members of a group based on odious stereotypes. For example, the collectivist thinker might teach that all members of one group are privileged and bear collective responsibility for the past or current wrongs of any of its members. Members of another group might all be categorized as victims deserving of special treatment.

Earlier this month, West Virginia’s House Education Committee recommended House Bill 4011—dubbed the Anti-Stereotyping Bill—for passage. Supporters of race-based teaching approaches have been quick to criticize the bill, claiming it will prevent educators from teaching history as it actually happened.

It’s hard to believe those critics read the bill, because that is not what the legislation seeks to do or remotely provides.

There are three main parts to this bill: curriculum transparency, prohibiting the endorsement of pernicious stereotypes, and stopping the compelled affirmation of those stereotypes.

First, the bill would require districts to post curricula online for parents and other citizens to view. This would help address growing concerns from parents over the lack of transparency regarding their children’s education.

Second, the bill says that K-12 schools that accept public funding cannot “promote, embrace, or endorse stereotypes; ensuring that the county board, public school or charter school does not require or compel a student, teacher, administrator, or other employee to affirm, adopt, or adhere to any certain beliefs or concepts and preserving free speech protections.”

The legislation makes it clear that the term “stereotypes” means ascribing character traits to persons based on their “particular race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.”

Race and sex stereotyping is the enemy of individualism—it is antithetical to our Declaration’s creed that all men are created equal, because it neglects to account for the choices, values, and actions that make a person who they are.

Prohibiting lesson plans that promote these stereotypes is reasonable. No child should feel that their worth or moral standing is defined or determined by their skin color or sex.

Critics also seem to think the bill will forbid teachers from teaching historical events as they really happened—including when the facts do involve elements of racism, sexism, and other prejudices. It’s also been cast as a conservative initiative that minority parents should oppose. Both characterizations are simply untrue.

The bill’s text states:

(c) Nothing in this section shall prohibit discussing:

(1) How such stereotypes have been or are wrongfully embraced or utilized to discriminate on the basis of race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin; or

(2)  Data or scientific studies that categorize people based on race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin, or that reveal disparities between different groups within any of those categories.

There is nothing partisan about the bill. Anyone in favor of true equality for all, as the Fourteenth Amendment promises, should view the legislation as a much-needed safeguard against discrimination—the very thing CRT and other race-based theory supporters claim to be against.

The third section of the bill forbids educators from compelling students to say a variety of things they don’t believe. This prohibition against compelled speech is required by the First Amendment.

Yet, the West Virginia chapter of the ACLU put out a tweet condemning the bill, claiming it would prohibit teachers from being able to say things like “slavery was an evil institution.”

Michelle Taylor, a parent, social worker, and author who writes about black feminism, responded to the tweet:

“I read the entire thing [the WV legislation] and it says no such thing at all. It actually encourages schools to make plain that stereotyping is wrong and that no group is inherently superior or inferior to another. It bans teaching the promotes [sic] white supremacy or non-white inferiority.”

A law that prohibited teaching the harmful effects of racism, both historical and present, would be a disservice to all and would likely perpetuate racism.

But you cannot combat racism with more racism, which is exactly what this bill seeks to prevent.

As fervent defenders of individualism, Pacific Legal Foundation has created model legislation that abolishes ugly stereotypes in public schools and ensures parents are made aware of what is being taught in their children’s classrooms. West Virginia is the first state to act on legislation that incorporates PLF’s model principles, but it hopefully will not be the last.

The West Virginia bill still will need to make its way through the House judiciary committee and Senate committees before it can become law. We hope that it does.