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There are public officials who put their heads down and do the work they were elected to do and there are those who merely seek to advance their political fortunes by calling attention to themselves at every opportunity.

Put state Attorney General Austin Knudsen in the latter category.

The Republican Knudsen recently issued an “opinion” banning the teaching of “critical race theory” in schools and employee training. He did so at the behest of Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, a fellow Republican who is apparently also prone to self-aggrandizement.

Isn’t it ironic these members of the party perpetually decrying legislating from the bench by judges apparently think it’s OK to legislate from the AG’s office?

Knudsen and Arntzen have fallen prey to the latest culture war bugaboo issued from national conservative circles. In an interview, Arntzen admitted she couldn’t cite an example of critical race theory being taught in a Montana school. But Knudsen’s opinion specifies students cannot be taught to “admit privilege” or any suggestions of “race scapegoating.” The 25-page opinion is fraught with the latest culture war talking points from the national stage but cites no examples of violations in Montana. In the opinion, he encourages students and parents who believe they are discriminated against by such curriculums to sue or file complaints with the Department of Education.

This has the makings of a litigious hot mess.

Who gets to decide what is and isn’t a violation of this opinion? Is Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, with its depiction of Huck’s companion Jim as an oppressed slave, unacceptable? What about Fools Crow by Montana’s own James Welch and its depiction of Native American oppression at the hands of whites?

To put it more succinctly, since when does a state attorney general dictate the curriculum in schools, colleges or universities based on vague, nonexistent violations of state and federal anti-discrimination law?

Policymakers in all educational institutions are encouraged to follow the lead of the Bozeman School District and carry on with curriculum plans as they would in the absence of this opinion.

Unfortunately, it seems inevitable the opinion will eventually be tested in court and become a drain on school officials’ time and resources. But that may be necessary for a judge or judges to strike down Knudsen’s opinion for what it is: an affront to free speech rights.


Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Charles Rinker, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, either leave a comment on the page below or write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.

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Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Michael Wright, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

To send feedback on editorials, write to citydesk@dailychronicle.com.