With so many laws passed forbidding the teaching of “critical race theory,” Kevin Welner has come up with an ingenious solution. Teach the law itself! Kevin is a lawyer who teaches education policy at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He is also director of the National Education Policy Center. He means this as an April Fool’s joke, but like all satires, there is more than a kernel of truth here:

In high-school classrooms throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Idaho, and other states that have passed laws apparently intended to prohibit the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT), a new type of elective course is popping up. Students in the classes read the state legislation and explore its meaning and impact.

One such course offered in Houston, Texas is called, “Get to Know SB 3”, which is a reference to that state’s bill passed in late-2021. Courses in other states and school districts have a variety of names, but what holds them together is an attempt to help students gain a deep understanding of their state’s law and what it accomplishes.

Kim Bell, who teaches the SB 3 course at Ladson-Billings High School in Houston, explained that the course was originally proposed by the school’s students. “None of them had heard of CRT until a couple years ago, but then everyone started talking about it and, more recently, about the law we thought would stop us from teaching it. The students turned to us because they wanted to know more, but at first we told them we were afraid to answer their questions about CRT. We thought that maybe the law stops us from even talking with them about it, so instead we told them about the law.”

Not surprisingly, the students then wanted to know even more about SB 3. “The more we told them, the more questions they asked. So we created this course. It’s not specifically about CRT, but we explain the theory because of its relevance to the legislature’s debates and intentions.”

Among the provisions in the Texas law is a prohibition against “inculcat[ing]” in students, “with respect to their relationship to American values, [that] slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.” As Bell’s students learn, this provision is a push-back against the generally accepted view of historians and other scholars, including those who use a CRT lens, who point to the many ways in which racism has been institutionalized in American laws and society.

The students also read the arguments used by proponents of the state laws. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for example, charged that CRT is “every bit as racist as a Klansmen in white sheets.” Rhode Island State Representative Patricia Morgan complained that she had lost a black friend to CRT – “I am sure I didn’t do anything to her, except be white.”

This teaching hasn’t gone unnoticed by proponents of laws. “Using things we say – that’s just sneaky and divisive!” protested Rep. Leon Alabaster.

The classes, however, are moving forward. “It seems like the legislature wanted SB 3 to stop us from teaching about the reality of structural racism. Fine. Most students reach that conclusion on their own,” said Bell. “If the legislature prohibited our science teachers from telling students that gravity is real, they’d still reach that conclusion after seeing the objective evidence.”

Bell and other teachers we spoke with pointed out that, by the end of the course, their students often observe that the laws designed to stop them from learning about institutionalized racism are themselves institutionalized racism. Also, these laws that are designed to stop students from learning about CRT have instead resulted in their learning about CRT.

Bell’s students even started a CRT club at the school. These students told us that it’s the CRT lens that really helps them understand the institutionalized racism underlying the anti-CRT laws.

“We’re thinking about creating another elective called, Using SB 3 to Explore Irony,” said Bell.