Minnesota should not require a highly ideological course in K-12 education

Several pieces of legislation introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate this session have focused on mandating ethnic studies in K-12 education — from lacing it throughout all academic standards to making it a high school graduation requirement. It is currently included in both the House education policy omnibus bill and the Senate’s.

Despite its advocates describing it as a “welcoming” and inclusive way to ensure that “children see themselves in the curriculum,” the definition of ethnic studies in these bills reveals this is not the intent of the course. Instead, this version of ethnic studies is overtly political, heavily focused on teaching racial consciousness and identity politics.

“Ethnic studies” means the critical and interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States. Ethnic studies analyzes the ways in which race and racism have been and continue to be powerful social, cultural, and political forces, and the ways in which race and racism are connected to other axes of stratification, including stratification based on gender, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, and legal status.

The Twin Cities chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) created an excellent resource explaining this version of ethnic studies and how it focuses on divisive content that includes “noxious and alienating messages for all students regardless of their ancestry.”

I testified against its inclusion in the Senate education policy omnibus bill (S.F. 1311) during its committee hearing on Wednesday. Below are my remarks as they were more or less delivered.

Madame Chair, members of the committee, thank you.

My name is Catrin Wigfall, and I am a policy fellow at American Experiment and a former public-school teacher. I am speaking today in opposition to several provisions in S.F. 1311 including changes to PSEO eligibility, reinstating licensure barriers, and how ethnic studies is defined.

As of last spring, nearly half of K-12 students statewide can’t read at grade level. Over 55 percent aren’t proficient in math.

Everything in this omnibus bill and the work of this committee should be focused on improving these academic outcomes.

The concern is that several provisions in this bill distract from that mission — to get kids to grade-level in math, reading, and science. We know what will improve academic outcomes — from literacy improvements to ensuring all students have access to the learning environment that fits them best. Such provisions are missing from this omnibus bill. Instead, ideologically charged language under the terms “ethnic studies” is included.

As a former teacher who had a roomful of diverse students looking to me for knowledge, guidance, and wisdom, I witnessed firsthand the great strength in teaching and celebrating the many cultural backgrounds represented in my classroom.

Students should absolutely learn about the rich cultures, histories, and economic and social achievements of the varied ethnic groups who have contributed to shaping our state and country. No one disagrees with the importance of that.

But that is not what the plain language in this bill is about. The definition of ethnic studies in this legislation will teach students to view society in terms of race-and-class warfare. I can’t imagine teaching my former students to view themselves and others through this narrow worldview.

The ethnic studies definition in this legislation politicizes the opportunity to emphasize ethnic and cultural understanding, and I ask you to not include this language in the final omnibus bill.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.