Ray Carter | August 25, 2022
Critical Race Theory in calculus, anatomy classes at Mustang?
In July, the Mustang school district had its accreditation downgraded by the State Board of Education after officials concluded a teacher’s lesson violated a state law that bans teaching students that they “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
At the August meeting of the State Board of Education, Mustang officials begged the board to reconsider their accreditation decision, saying teachers in a wide range of classes at the district have indicated they believe they may violate the law.
“We are all fearful in education right now,” said Kathy Knowles, principal at Mustang High School.
House Bill 1775, which was signed into law in 2021, made it illegal to teach Oklahoma students that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and other concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory.
The permanent rules that guide implementation of the law apply HB 1775’s prohibitions not only to classroom instruction but also training sessions, seminars, and professional-development programs for school staff.
A parent filed a complaint against Mustang schools after students were subjected to a “Privilege Walk” exercise based on the concept of “White Privilege.” Mustang officials called the lesson a “cross the line” activity and claimed it was meant to advocate against bullying.
During the exercise, students were asked to step forward if they believed they fit various descriptions, such as, “Can you walk in a store without anyone thinking you’re about to steal?” and “When walking alone at night, do you have to worry about someone feeling threatened by you?”
Video of the exercise showed one student asking, “Why are all of these questions about white race?”
Knowles told the state board it is “scary” that the teacher who had students perform the privilege-walk exercise “is in danger of losing his job, of losing his certification, of contributing to Mustang Public Schools losing their accreditation.”
She also said many teachers in the Mustang district “are concerned about the curriculum they teach” in light of HB 1775 and read statements from several.
“A pre-calculus teacher stated, ‘I feel sad and scared daily coming into work,’” Knowles said.
She said a “family-and-consumer science teacher stated, ‘There is an unpalatable fear that I am afraid puts a barrier between student-teacher relationships and turns what could be stimulating and savory lessons into bland and basic.’”
And she said an anatomy teacher at Mustang said, “I feel as though I can’t be myself with my students anymore.”
Knowles did not specify what content in pre-calculus, consumer science, or anatomy lessons would violate HB 1775’s prohibitions.
Aaron Tiger, a parent of Mustang students and senior pastor at the Mustang United Methodist Church, similarly said a Mustang teacher contacted him to say enforcement of HB 1775 had increased her discouragement “to the point that I just cry thinking about having to endure another year.”
“Without training, reflection, and self-awareness, this type of bias goes unchecked and unacknowledged.” —Tulsa school board president Stacey Woolley, defending the requirement for staff to take “implicit bias” training
He declared enforcement of HB 1775 to be a bigger threat than COVID.
“In the last few years we’ve had a teacher walkout. They’ve taught through a pandemic,” Tiger said. “And yet, this latest action is what is shutting them down.”
While Knowles and Tiger indicated many teachers at Mustang believe they could be found to have violated HB 1775, other Mustang officials suggested otherwise.
Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley called the reported violation “an isolated incident by one teacher.”
Mustang Mayor Brian Grider urged the board to reconsider its decision on the school’s accreditation based on procedural concerns, but also said, “We’re not saying that Mustang didn’t violate the law.”
Officials from Tulsa Public Schools, which also had its accreditation lowered due to a violation of HB 1775, similarly asked the board to reconsider its decision.
“The uproar resulting from the state board’s decision in July is threatening to distract us from the important work we’re doing in Tulsa,” said Stacey Woolley, president of the Tulsa school board.
Woolley defended the district’s requirement for staff to take “implicit bias” training. Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Education concluded a program used in the Tulsa district violated HB 1775.
“Without training, reflection, and self-awareness, this type of bias goes unchecked and unacknowledged,” Woolley said.
However, implicit-bias training has been criticized for having little basis in science and research has shown associated trainings having little real-world impact.
A 2013 meta-analysis by officials at Rice University, the University of Virginia, and Texas A&M University found that the Implicit-Association Tests (IATs) that form the foundation of implicit-bias training are “poor predictors” of bias.
A 2017 article in New York magazine by Jesse Singal noted that, according to prominent supporters of the IAT, “75 percent of Americans who take the IAT are found to be unconscious racists,” including many racial minorities the test proclaims are biased against people like themselves.
However, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Deborah Gist defended implicit-bias training based in part on the fact that nearly all individuals are accused of harboring implicit bias under the system, and she indicated that race-based bias is not associated with racism.
“There’s no statement or sentiment in our professional development that people are racist based on their race,” Gist said. “Rather the message is that we all have preconceived presumptions or beliefs that are informed in part by our experiences. That is explicitly about bias, a concept I know you also believe in. It’s not about racism.”
Motions to reconsider the board’s decisions to downgrade Mustang and Tulsa’s accreditation failed on identical 2-3 votes. Those voting to reconsider the accreditation decisions were State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister and board member Carlisha Bradley. Those voting against the motion and in favor of leaving the sanctions in place were board members Brian Bobek, Sarah Lepak, and Trent Smith.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.