Education, Culture & the Family

Ban on racist instruction sent to governor

April 29, 2021

Ray Carter

Legislation banning the use of racist instruction in Oklahoma classrooms has won easy approval in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and been sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt.

House Bill 1775, by Sen. David Bullard and Rep. Kevin West, makes it illegal for schools to teach Oklahoma students that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

“The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness has no color, has no sex, nor should … our children be taught in our schools that one’s color or sex is cause for superiority or guilt,” said West, R-Moore. “Genuine American history is rich with stories of achievement, sacrifices, and yes, even atrocities. It recognizes our shortfalls and our failures. But it also celebrates our successes and our corrections.”

He said that history is “in stark contrast to the grim and pessimistic narrative pressed by critical race theorists.”

“Our history is one of hope,” West said. “Critical race theory seeks to change that and paint some as born reprobate without hope. Critical race theory prescribes a revolutionary program that would overturn the principles of the Declaration (of Independence) and destroy the remaining structure of the Constitution.”

The legislation contains several prohibitions on any instruction that advocates in favor of racist behavior, among other things banning any teaching that instructs students that individuals “should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment” based solely on their race or gender or that “an individual’s moral character is necessarily determined by his or her race or sex.”

Opponents said those prohibitions would make it illegal to teach history and many other lessons.

“This bill will allow us to teach about World War II but not the reasoning behind Hitler’s motives,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa. “This bill would allow us to teach about the Osage murders, but not the why behind the ‘killers of the flower moon.’ This bill will allow us to teach about the Tulsa Race Massacre. Oh wait, no it won’t. We also can’t teach the why behind the Trail of Tears.”

“As a former 8th-grade and 10th-grade history teacher, the practical application of this bill could lead to censorship and undue pressure placed on history teachers as they attempt to do their job,” Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said in a press release. “House Bill 1775 is an example of major government overreach, and it absolutely strips away the autonomy of educators and local boards of education.”

“This is a bill that I would expect from a dictatorial society which sets barriers around education,” said Rep. Denise Brewer, D-Tulsa.

“We are committing to a massive government overreach into our classrooms,” said Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa.

West said HB 1775 still allows for instruction on historic discrimination and societal wrongs, and only forbids teachers from instructing students that a child’s race makes them automatically racist or complicit in past wrongs.

“This will not negate what the history is. Our past will still be taught as well as our present,” West said. “It just simply says that you’re not going to make somebody feel like they’re responsible for actions that they did not partake in.”

Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, objected to one provision of the bill that makes it illegal for teachers to make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

“Sometimes, discomfort can be our best teacher,” Ranson said.

Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, said the bill was “trying to absolve white folks from feeling guilty and feeling discomfited by the heinous acts that have occurred yesterday and today.”

She also criticized former U.S. leaders long touted as leaders in the fight against racism.

“Abraham Lincoln, quite frankly, he didn’t really want to free the slaves,” Goodwin said. “He was just trying to bring about some peace. That’s really the truth of that scenario.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, compared supporters of HB 1775 to the assassin of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

“It was the same example of what’s called white fragility that led to Doctor King being shot in Memphis,” Nichols said. “That’s the same spirit under which we are now bringing this bill forward, I believe.”

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said lawmakers should allow local officials to monitor what teachers say rather than banning specific teachings in law.

“Teachers have been saying racist, sexist things for a long time,” Virgin said. “We know that. We hear about it all the time. Why now do we have to put in state law and make it illegal for teachers to even say certain things or make a student feel a certain way?”

Brewer said HB 1775’s ban on teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” would make businesses less likely to come to Oklahoma.

“The economy is going to suffer greatly if we pass this,” Brewer said, referencing a letter signed by 90 business entities that included Google, Hilton, IBM, Ikea, and Levi Straus. She said those businesses have indicated they will not locate in states that pass legislation like HB 1775.

Supporters of HB 1775 said it is important to combat racism and said critical race theory has been a significant contributor to racist teaching in classrooms not only nationwide, but also in Oklahoma.

“When we take a whole race of people and we say, ‘They’re all that way,’ that is racism,” said Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland. “Our children should not be taught the poison of racism. Our children should not be taught to hate.”

“If you had told me when I started my tenure in the House seven years ago that we were going to have to pass a bill that essentially said that we shouldn’t judge a child or an individual based on the color of their skin, and that we were going to have members of this body object to that bill—the result being that we’re going to enshrine the rights for adults to call a child somehow deficient based solely on the color of their skin—I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid. “But here we are and that’s the issue we’re facing. The philosophy of the training that this bill deals with that teaches our students that some forms of racism are okay, and that some forms of sexism are okay—just depends on who the target is—it’s abhorrent. It tears this nation apart at its very seams.”

“This bill is not dictating what students should think about race and sex,” said Rep. Wendi Stearman, R-Collinsville. “It is simply removing from the classroom the indoctrination of students. Is it too risky to allow students to think for themselves? I believe that Oklahoma students, given the proper skills, absent coercion, can be trusted to discern truth.”

Rep. J.J. Humphrey, R-Lane, who has worked in the corrections industry, noted that the DNA tests he administered through the years consistently showed people came from a range of backgrounds.

“I’ve never tested one person that was not multicultural,” Humphrey said.

“Critical race theory is a divisive concept that has its roots in Marxist ideology,” said Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy. “It is designed to teach children to hate American exceptionalism and distrust each other based on skin color. Critical race theory claims that most laws and systems in America were historically rooted in racist oppression of black people and other marginalized groups. It promotes the theory of implicit bias, of inherent racism due to one’s skin color. Essentially, if you are white, you are inherently an oppressor and if you are a minority, you are inherently oppressed.”

HB 1775 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives on a 70-19 vote that broke mostly along party lines. Rep. Daniel Pae, R-Lawton, was the only Republican to join Democrats voting in opposition.

The bill now goes to Gov. Kevin Stitt.