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Wyoming superintendent joins national Republicans in decrying Biden push for diversity in civics education
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Wyoming superintendent joins national Republicans in decrying Biden push for diversity in civics education

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Balow

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow speaks during a coronavirus update Aug. 12 inside the Capitol in Cheyenne. 

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow has joined a growing number of Republican lawmakers and elected officials in pushing back against a Biden administration proposal that prioritizes “Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives” in K-12 civics education.

Balow issued a statement Tuesday decrying the Biden proposal as promoting “critical race theory,” writing, “The draft rule is an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history.”

“America needs to update and renew our expectations for teaching and learning about history and civics. Every school board, state legislature, and state superintendent should be working to build local consensus about what should be taught and what materials to use in classrooms,” the statement continues.

The Biden administration outlined two proposals last month for education grants facilitated through federal American History and Civics Education programs. One grant proposal would prioritize projects that helped teach news literacy. The other offers grants for educators to teach “Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives.”

The latter proposal, which cites The New York Times 1619 project on the history of American slavery as an example of curriculum that should be taught in K-12 schools, has been controversial among conservatives.

The New York Times project reported on how slavery informed and shaped all parts of American society. It received both acclaim and criticism, and its accuracy has been debated by conservatives and some historians since it was published in 2019.

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The Biden proposal does not require educators to adopt the 1619 Project curriculum but uses it as an example of the type of work that could be taught with the grants.

Grant applicants are encouraged to submit proposals that “Take into account systemic marginalization, biases, inequities, and discriminatory policy and practice in American history; Incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives and perspectives on the experience of individuals with disabilities; Encourage students to critically analyze the diverse perspectives of historical and contemporary media and its impacts; Support the creation of learning environments that validate and reflect the diversity, identities, and experiences of all students; and contribute to inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments.”

How an educator meets that criteria is open to interpretation.

The recommended grant priorities were published April 19 and have received wide partisan pushback.

Thirty Republican Congress members, including Wyoming’s Sen. Cynthia Lummis, signed a letter Monday asking U.S. Education Department Secretary Miguel Cordona to withdraw Biden’s proposals.

“Our nation’s youth do not need activist indoctrination that fixates solely on past flaws and splits our nation into divided camps,” that statement reads. “Taxpayer-supported programs should emphasize the shared civic virtues that bring us together, not push radical agendas that tear us apart.”

The proposed grant priorities are open for public comment until May 19. The full description and response form can be found by searching “Proposed Priorities-American History and Civics Education” at federalregister.gov.

Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes

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Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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