"You can teach critical race theory in class, but you have to teach the other side, too,” Elsie Arntzen, Montana Superintendent of Office of Public Instruction (OPI), told an audience of parents at a church in Missoula recently (Missoulian November 3, 2021). She was explaining her interpretation of Montana Attorney General Knutsen’s legal opinion on the constitutionality of teaching Critical Race Theory in Montana’s public K-12 schools. 

In a recent column we shared with our readers some of the responsibilities and powers of Montana’s Attorney General. Among the Attorney General’s powers is the right to issue legal opinions that hold the force of law unless overturned by a district court. Elsie Arntzen Superintendent of Public Instruction Office of Public Education asked for an Attorney General’s opinion. 

Attorney General Knutsen opinion held: 

In many instances, the use of “Critical Race Theory” and “antiracism” programming discriminates on the basis of race, color, or national origin in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Article II, Section 4 of the Montana Constitution, and the Montana Human Rights Act.

Superintendent Arntzen’s comments and Attorney General Kuntsen’s opinion concern us for three reasons.

First, Critical Race Theory is not taught in any Montana K-12 schools. We were surprised to hear that the Superintendent asked for an opinion on something that is not happening. 

Critical Race Theory is a sophisticated academic paradigm about the artificial construct of race. It is taught in law schools to analyze how racism historically has been institutionalized through state and federal legal statutes. For example, some state statutes punished, with prison terms, people who married outside their race. This example of a state statute was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in the 1960s. Another example of racism institutionalized by law is the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which denied American citizenship rights, including the right to vote, to most Native Americans. 

Our second concern is based on Montana’s constitutional requirement that all Montana students learn about the distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner. How does Superintendent Antzen square this constitutional mandate and the work of the OPI Indian Education for All (IEFA) Unit with her condemnation of Critical Race Theory and antiracism? If she is advocating all schools teach cultural awareness of Indians, how can she condemn educational tools that do just that and how could her condemnation influence her commitment to Montana’s constitutional mandate?

Our third concern has to do with her statement that teachers must “teach the other side” of antiracism. What is “the other side” of antiracism? Racism? Is she promoting the teaching of racism? OPI has devoted many years and resources to developing an Indian education curricula for Montana’s schools and teachers in order to fulfil its constitutional mandate. Is Superintendent Antzen now suggesting OPI develop and promote the “other side” of the Montana’s commitment to “the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity”? 

These are our concerns about our elected public officials and their commitment to the diversity, equity, and inclusion of all Montanans. 

The League of Women Voters supports a comprehensive history education for all students that includes teaching all histories including Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, Feminist and Queer American history. A complete education requires a comprehensive approach that is inclusive of all American cultures. The teaching of history must reflect the perspectives and experiences of marginalized groups. The League of Women Voters believes in creating a more just, equitable, and inclusive democracy. The teaching of comprehensive American history is integral to this effort. 

The League of Women Voters has been registering voters and providing non-partisan voting information for over 100 years. Membership is open to men and women, citizens and non-citizens over the age of 16. For more information about the Missoula League, go to our website: lwvmissoula.org

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