CHARLESTON, W.V. (WOWK) – Across the country, Democrats and Republicans are clashing over what schools should and shouldn’t teach when it comes to systemic racism.

The debate stems from the critical race theory, which is an academic approach to explaining how racism functions in American institutions.

Republicans believe the critical race theory will divide Americans, while Democrats believe examining the root cause of disparity in the country is the only way to move forward.

Racism has been a much-debated topic amid cases of police brutality, protests and racial injustices. The critical race theory is shaping up to be a major cultural battle ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with learning all of history, and you have to accept the good and the bad,” said delegate Mike Pushkin, a Democrat for Kanawha County.

Some Republicans argue the theory unfairly forces students to consider race and racism. In 2020, former President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning federal contractors from conducting certain racial sensitivity training. It was challenged in court, and President Joe Biden rescinded the order the day he took office.

“I don’t want to see future West Virginians and future Americans growing up thinking that everyone is hateful, that everyone is looking to oppress others,” said delegate Josh Holstein, a Republican for Boone County.  

Holstein said he thinks the debate is mostly centered around how children develop.

“When you’re in school and as a young child, your world view is being formed, and you want to have children that are educated and are smart and know the past and can work towards the future,” Holstein said.

However, some Democrats say the way to move forward is for all Americans to accept all of history.

“It’s about teaching what actually happened. Let’s teach real history,” Pushkin said.

States such as Idaho and Oklahoma have adopted laws that limit how public school teachers can talk about race in the classroom, and similar bills are before nearly half a dozen state legislatures, including Ohio.