NEA/OEA admits anti-CRT law does not ban teaching history

December 9, 2021

Ray Carter

When lawmakers passed House Bill 1775, which bans public schools from teaching certain concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory, critics claimed the law makes it illegal to educate children about some of history’s darker racial chapters.

But a new “Know your rights” guide released by the National Education Association (NEA) and its state-affiliate Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) admits that is not the case—even though the union continues to urge teachers to oppose anti-CRT laws like HB 1775.

“The laws enacted to date generally do not prohibit teaching the full sweep of U.S. history, including teaching about nearly 250 years of slavery, the Civil War, the Reconstruction period, or the violent white supremacy that brought Reconstruction to an end and has persisted in one or another form ever since,” the guide states.

The document informs Oklahoma teachers that HB 1775 “does not prevent the teaching of history and social studies or any other subject matter area that is in compliance with the Oklahoma Academic Standards,” and notes state standards mandate the teaching of a wide range of events related to racial issues.

Sen. David Bullard, a Durant Republican and longtime public-school history teacher who authored the law, welcomed news of the NEA’s acknowledgement.

“We ought to just do a thank-you letter to them: ‘We appreciate the fact that you have backed up what we’ve been saying all along,’” Bullard said.

Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, a longtime public-school history teacher and top education advisor to Gov. Kevin Stitt, had a similar response.

“I’m glad to see OEA agree with what we have said all along — that HB 1775 does nothing to prevent the teaching of a full accurate version of history,” Walters said.

House Bill 1775, by 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 bill bans several other similar concepts broadly associated with Critical Race Theory, including that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

During legislative debate on HB 1775, critics argued the law makes it illegal to teach any topic that might make children uncomfortable.

“This bill will allow us to teach about World War II but not the reasoning behind Hitler’s motives,” said Rep. Melissa Provenzano, a Tulsa Democrat and former teacher. “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 educator who struggled to teach difficult concepts to small children with integrity and discovery and exploration that led to a rich understanding of the challenges that we have overcome as a country and those that still exist, this would have made me stop,” said Sen. Carri Hicks, an Oklahoma City Democrat and former teacher.

Oklahoma City School Board member Carrie Coppernoll Jacobs, who previously worked as a teacher, said “the conversations that happened in my classroom would absolutely have been illegal under House Bill 1775” during a meeting in which the board voted to condemn HB 1775.

But supporters of HB 1775 have always said those critics are wrong and nothing in the bill prevents teaching history. The NEA/OEA guide backs up those supporters.

The guide notes that the Oklahoma Academic Standards “require instruction on the history of slavery and race relations in the United States” as well as the “causes of the Tulsa Race Riot and its continued social and economic impact;” the historical impact of federal and state policies on Native American identity, culture, tribal government and sovereignty; the history of the plantation system; the Civil War; the Reconstruction era; and civil rights struggles. The guide also notes the Oklahoma Academic Standards require that students be taught to analyze “ongoing social and political transformations within the United States” and “examine contemporary issues including immigration, criminal justice reform and race relations.”

The NEA/OEA guide states that when teachers are “planning discussions about current events that raise racial issues,” they should simply “be sure your curriculum is age-appropriate and squarely in line with state standards and past practices.” The guide also informs educators that “nothing in these laws should constrain your ability to answer tough questions and encourage critical thinking among your students, even if those questions arise organically.”

The guide notes that HB 1775 does not bar lessons focused on any aspect of history simply because students may find it troubling.

“You do not, however, need to avoid discussions or readings that may be deeply provocative and upsetting,” the NEA/OEA guide states. “Confronting the horrors of slavery and the continuing legacy of racism in our country is upsetting, but the new laws do not ban all emotional discussions.”

The teacher-union guide even agrees that some concepts banned by HB 1775 do not belong in a classroom.

“As always, you should never teach that any sex or race is inherently superior or inferior,” the guide states. “The new state law prohibits such instruction, as do many other state and federal laws as well.”

Bullard said the NEA/OEA guide affirms “what I have said all along” about HB 1775, including that none of the banned concepts “should ever be taught” and that the bill “does not stop a single person from teaching real, accurate history.”

Walters said HB 1775 will have little impact on teachers who are doing their jobs the right way.

“As a History teacher, I teach about all the great moments in our nation that need celebration and bad moments we all must learn from,” Walters said. “HB 1775 simply bans indoctrination, something we should all agree has no place in our schools. “

While the NEA/OEA guide concedes that HB 1775 and similar laws in other states allow the teaching of history in all its complexities, the union nonetheless urged opposition to those laws and decried their enactment.

“These dangerous attempts to stoke fears and rewrite history not only diminish the injustices experienced by generations of Americans, they prevent educators from challenging our students to achieve a more equitable future,” wrote NEA President Becky Pringle.

The guide also claims laws like HB 1775 are “yet another attempt to divide Americans along partisan and racial lines” and seek “to stifle discussions on racism, sexism and inequity in public school classrooms.”

The NEA/OEA guide includes links for teachers who want to “get more involved in opposing these laws.”

While the union’s continued opposition to laws like HB 1775 conflicts with the union guide’s acknowledgement that HB 1775 does not prevent teaching accurate history to students, those conflicting sections make obvious the union’s reason for opposing HB 1775, Walters said.

“In their own words they acknowledge this was never about history,” Walters said. “It was about pushing a political ideology.”