- Oklahoma passed a law banning K-12 schools from teaching lessons that would cause “guilt” because of a person’s race or sex.
- The law also bans universities from requiring training on race and gender diversity.
- One school leader said the law is a “solution looking for a problem which does not exist.”
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed Friday into law a controversial bill that bans K-12 schools from teaching certain lessons about race and gender if they cause “discomfort, guilt, anguish or psychological distress” to students.
“Now more than ever, we need policies that bring us closer together, not rip us apart,” Stitt said in a video about the legislation. “As governor, I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans by their race or sex. That is what this bill upholds for public education.”
House Bill 1775 prevents K-12 schools from teaching “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive,” and “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
It also bars the teachings that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another.”
As The Oklahoman reported, lawmakers who supported the bill say it is to prevent the teaching of critical race theory in schools, though it’s not clear whether any Oklahoma schools are teaching lessons based on critical race theory.
According to the American Bar Association, critical race theory was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and “cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice.”
“It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers,” according to the ABA.
—Governor Kevin Stitt (@GovStitt) May 7, 2021
The theory involves examing how slavery and segregation continue to impact present-day society and acknowledges “racism is not a bygone relic of the past,” according to the ABA.
“No matter how poorly written, the intention of the bill clearly aims to limit teaching the racial implications of America’s history,” the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission said in a statement opposing the bill. “The bill serves no purpose than to fuel the racism and denial that afflicts our communities and our nation. It is a sad day and a stain on Oklahoma.”
Republicans have increasingly narrowed in on the idea of critical race theory, as The Atlantic reported Friday. Former President Donald Trump last year, for example, banned federal agencies from conducting workplace race trainings. Idaho lawmakers also recently passed a similar bill, although the governor hasn’t yet signed it into law.
But opponents of these bills say these types of legislation actually serve as roadblocks to frank discussions about racism and US history, as The Atlantic noted.
“HB 1775 appears to be a solution looking for a problem which does not exist,” said Dr. Sean McDaniel, Oklahoma City Public Schools superintendent, in a statement earlier this week.
“We have teachers across the district who we trust to make decisions — sometimes life and death decisions — on behalf of our students each and every day,” he said. “Surely we can continue to trust our educators to guide these difficult yet necessary conversations with our students inside of their classrooms. “
The Oklahoma law also bans public colleges and universities from engaging “in any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training,” which also faced opposition.
“It runs contrary to the goals we have laid out for ourselves as part of our Strategic Plan, and the initiatives we have established to make OU a place of true belonging for all,” said Joseph Harroz, the president of the University of Oklahoma, in a statement opposing the legislation. “As an institution of higher learning, we are a fertile ground for the exchange of free ideas and the celebration of all forms of diversity.