Education , Law & Principles

Trent England | October 10, 2022

Fact checking the attacks on HB 1775

Trent England

The Tulsa World recently perpetuated a lie that is all too common among Oklahoma reporters and leftist activists. (Not that the two categories are distinct.) I looked up the World’s Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton on Twitter and the all-knowing algorithm indicated that if I like her work, I should also follow the Service Employees International Union. Krehbiel-Burton, writing about an ACLU lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s HB 1775, claimed the law “prohibits causing a student to feel guilty or uncomfortable because of their race or gender.” Fact check: False.

HB 1775 is often referred to as Oklahoma’s ban on “Critical Race Theory” in public schools. CRT is an idea developed by fringe academics who condemned the American civil rights movement. They wanted to focus on group power rather than individual rights. They mostly dismiss leaders like Rev. Martin Luther King, who hoped for an America where we judge people not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

“The core tenets of CRT,” according to a recent speaker at the University of Central Oklahoma, “are that racism will never go away, and although it might appear that our society is improving its race relations, it will never stop privileging whites and will only support legislation and policies so long as they don’t threaten the whites.” In other words, CRT teaches that white people are inherently and permanently racist—which itself is blatantly racist.

If a teacher indicates that students should feel guilty because their Osage ancestors captured and sold slaves, that would violate the law.

Before returning to our fact checking, it’s worth noting how self-serving CRT is for its purveyors. Racism, they say, is here to stay. The only thing we can do is give CRT academics and consultants enough money to counterbalance it with their own racism. And maybe to get a mansion or three.

So what does state law, created by HB 1775, actually say about making students feel bad? The law prohibits any public school from teaching that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” I’ve highlighted the important words, but let me be really, really clear.

HB 1775 is not subjective. It is irrelevant, according to this law, what a student does feel, or if a student actually is offended or even traumatized. The question is what is being taught. If a teacher indicates that students should feel guilty because, for example, their Osage ancestors captured and sold slaves, that would violate the law. But that’s stupid. Any teacher telling students that they’re guilty because of something done by somebody else centuries ago should be relieved from teaching anything as important as history.

If a student happens to feel bad about some historical incident, that has nothing to do with HB 1775—unless the teacher or curriculum indicates that they should feel that way. And even if no students feel bad, if the teacher is haranguing them about their collective guilt, yes, that’s illegal. The students’ feelings don’t matter, not as far as HB 1775 is concerned. Any person who reads at a fourth grade level can figure that out.

Of course, you can’t figure it out if a reporter deletes the important words. The Washington Post, which can’t possibly take itself seriously anymore, summed up HB 1775 as a “state law limiting public school lessons or materials that lead students to ‘feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress’ because of their race or gender.” See what Jeff Bezos’s reporter, Jonathan Edwards, did there? By starting the quote just after the word “should” he makes it seem like he’s just giving readers the text of the law even as he twists it to fit his false narrative. (I suppose, to this Jonathan Edwards, we’re all sinners in the hands of an angry woke god.)

Back to the Osage Nation, the tribal government recently called for repealing HB 1775. The resolution was sponsored by Osage Congressman Whitney RedCorn. She justified the measure by saying that "when we learn history in a factual manner, it stirs feelings of compassion, injustice, and unfairness.” That is absolutely right, and totally irrelevant.

Opponents of HB 1775 are trying to construct the narrative that the law is ambiguous or “vague,” which is the key criticism in the Osage resolution. To support the contention, they produce a few teachers, most of whom appear to be leftwing activists, who say they are frightened to teach after enactment of HB 1775. It’s an unfalsifiable claim, and maybe they really are scared. Some people are still wearing masks. Making fun of these people is cruel; they need help. Yet irrational fear is not a reason to strike down a law.

But let’s do another fact check. Again, we have Krehbiel-Burton at the World, who in another story characterized HB 1775 as a “law limiting instruction on race, gender, and history.” And again, so did the Washington Post, which called it a “law that restricts teaching about race and gender.” Fact check: False.

HB 1775 is a law limiting instruction in favor of certain ideologies. Teachers can teach about racism. They just can’t be racist. But don’t take my word for it. Read the whole thing (it’s two pages) or the operative section below. I’ve italicized some of the important phrases.

  1. No teacher, administrator or other employee of a school district, charter school or virtual charter school shall require or make part of a course the following concepts:
    1. one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,
    2. an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,
    3. an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex,
    4. members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex,
    5. an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex,
    6. an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,
    7. any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex, or
    8. meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race.

    So, to sum up, Oklahoma teachers are prohibited from teaching that any race is inherently better or worse, or deserves to be discriminated against. They’re welcome to teach about bigotry, but not to try to convince students to be bigots. The fact that a few teachers and politicians find this troubling is itself troubling, and revealing.

    Trent England David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

    Trent England

    David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow

    Trent England is the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, where he previously served as executive vice president. He is also the founder and executive director of Save Our States, which educates Americans about the importance of the Electoral College. England is a producer of the feature-length documentary “Safeguard: An Electoral College Story.” He has appeared three times on Fox & Friends and is a frequent guest on media programs from coast to coast. He is the author of Why We Must Defend the Electoral College and a contributor to The Heritage Guide to the Constitution and One Nation Under Arrest: How Crazy Laws, Rogue Prosecutors, and Activist Judges Threaten Your Liberty. His writing has also appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Times, Hillsdale College's Imprimis speech digest, and other publications. Trent formerly hosted morning drive-time radio in Oklahoma City and has filled for various radio hosts including Ben Shapiro. A former legal policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation, he holds a law degree from The George Mason University School of Law and a bachelor of arts in government from Claremont McKenna College.

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