by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As bills banning critical race theory swept through red state legislatures this summer, a common critique of the laws emerged: CRT bans may be legal, the argument went, but they aren’t liberal. Critics across the political spectrum said the bills would stifle speech, censor American history, and erode the country’s culture of classical, small-L liberalism, understood as a commitment to the free exchange of ideas.
Now proponents of such laws have devised model legislation that seeks to address these criticisms head on. Released on Thursday by the Manhattan Institute’s James Copland, the legislation isn’t just an attempt to ban CRT without undermining liberal values; it also shows how those values could be strengthened by well-drafted restrictions on CRT.
The legislation, which Copland details in a report titled “How To Regulate Critical Race Theory in Schools,” avoids the broad language of many state statutes and takes to heart the suggestions of some of their critics. Copland’s template would bar public K-12 schools from endorsing, but not discussing, a narrow range of concepts associated with CRT and its popular derivatives. It would also bar schools from requiring students and faculty to affirm those concepts or attend diversity trainings based on them. And it would require schools to display all diversity-related materials online, a nod to both liberals and conservatives who have called for curricular transparency in lieu of CRT bans.
The animating philosophy of the template, according to Copland, is “educational pluralism.” The goal isn’t to keep divisive ideas out of the classroom, but to prevent them from ossifying into official dogma.
At least one conservative critic of CRT bans has kind words for Copland’s template: David French, who in July coauthored a New York Times op-ed on the “danger of anti-critical race theory laws,” said the proposal was “dramatically better” than the bills he’d opposed.