Tulsa teachers told to focus on ‘privilege and oppression’
November 22, 2021
During a recent professional-development training, Tulsa Public Schools teachers were told to shift their classroom focus to “privilege and oppression,” according to materials recently made public.
That recommendation was included in a “Changing the Discourse” training offered by the National Equity Project that was provided to Tulsa teachers. Much of the National Equity Project’s materials and website include concepts associated with Critical Race Theory, such as the idea that white individuals automatically enjoy privileged status while racial minorities are automatically oppressed, regardless of individual circumstances or achievement.
One slide presented during the program stated that the training would help participants “calibrate what we mean by ‘equity’ and ‘closing the achievement gap.’” It divided “discourse” into two categories with the second category defined as “the language that tends to be about uncomfortable, unequal, ineffective, prejudicial conditions in school.”
Another slide from the presentation encouraged Tulsa teachers to shift from focusing on “ability and merit” to “privilege and oppression.”
That same slide also informed teachers that they should put less focus on “techniques, methods, and ‘best practices’” and instead put more focus on “learning and relationships.” Rather than focus on “discipline and control,” the training told Tulsa teachers to instead place more focus on “alienation and resistance.”
Teachers were also told to put less focus on “answers and solutions” and instead focus on “dilemmas and inquiries.”
Portions of the training were recently made public on the Facebook page of Tulsa Parents Voice, a local chapter of a statewide organization that advocates for parental involvement in Oklahoma education. A spokesperson for the group indicated the slides were obtained from a participant.
‘Consciously Redistribute Power’
On its website, the National Equity Project encourages officials “to acknowledge and make meaning of the historical and ongoing impacts of racism and white supremacy.” The project’s statement of beliefs also declares that public systems, including public schools, “maintain inequity by design” and that inequity was “not created by accident.”
“It takes rebel leadership to abolish unjust systems and catalyze positive change,” the National Equity Project site states. “Rebel leaders make ‘good trouble.’”
The group indicated its recommendations, if embraced, disrupt existing school systems in significant ways.
“Leading for equity requires us to redesign structures and processes to consciously redistribute power across role groups and institutions,” the National Equity Project site states.
Various blog posts authored by the leadership of the National Equity Project also stress that significant disruption is a feature, not a bug, of its training and mission.
“The fight for our collective future will not be fair or gentle—power concedes nothing without demand,” wrote LaShawn Routé Chatmon, executive director of the National Equity Project, in a June 4, 2020 blog post. “We are already witnessing the callous and negligent responses to demands for justice and accountability.”
In that same blog, Chatmon decried alleged “further evidence of racial terror being waged against Black bodies, followed by maligned indifference to demands for justice. … We can no longer deny the violence, pain and loss that is being disproportionately beset upon Black people and Black communities.”
In a Sept. 16, 2019 blog, Kathleen Osta, the National Equity Project’s managing director of the Midwest region, wrote, “White students need to learn our history as white people, the way that ‘whiteness’ was constructed to advantage those who were designated as ‘white’ and disadvantage people of color — systematically denying people of color the right to vote, the right to own property and build wealth, and the right to live in communities with well-funded schools, transportation, green space. They need to understand the way that government policies created and sustain the racial segregation and systemic inequities we see today and they need opportunities to confront these truths in ways that support them to be curious, to acknowledge their emotional responses and not fall victim to the defensiveness, guilt, and white fragility that often arises when white people come into consciousness about our true history.”
Lawmakers Call for HB 1775 Permanent Rules
Under House Bill 1775, which became law this year, Oklahoma’s K-12 schools are banned from teaching several concepts associated with Critical Race Theory, including 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.”
Under emergency rules adopted by the State Board of Education to implement HB 1775, schools are prohibited from contracting with outside entities to conduct programs that include material banned by HB 1775. Schools are also prohibited “from adopting diversity, equity, or inclusion plans that incorporate the concepts” barred by HB 1775.
Under the regulations, school districts that fail to comply with HB 1775 can have their annual accreditation status downgraded and districts that do not address shortcomings for two years in a row can face the loss of accreditation.
Twenty-eight members of the Oklahoma Legislature recently signed a letter calling on State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister to begin the process of promulgating permanent rules to implement House Bill 1775.
“As you are aware, H.B. 1775 took effect July 1, outlawing the teaching of race and sex-based discriminatory ideologies to students in Oklahoma schools,” the letter stated. “There is continued opposition to these ideologies from parents, educators, students, and citizens statewide. We write today to urge you to immediately begin the process of promulgating permanent rules to implement H.B. 1775 and to do so by posting the State Board of Education’s existing emergency rules for public comment.”
The lawmakers wrote that “it is past time for the permanent rules to be published for the 30-day public comment period, as required by the Oklahoma Administrative Procedures Act. Given the importance of these rules, members of the Oklahoma legislature will be closely monitoring both the substantive changes the State Department of Education makes to existing emergency rules and the process the Department utilizes to submit permanent rules to the legislature for final approval.”
Despite the passage of HB 1775, the website of the Oklahoma State Department of Education, which is headed by Hofmeister, still includes or directs teachers to materials that tout themes common to Critical Race Theory, including a letter from Hofmeister declaring that “racism is so deeply entrenched and pervasive in nearly every corner of society” and that the “need for systemic change has long been at the fore of public school concerns.” Among the “high-quality resources” touted on the agency website is a lesson plan that teaches students about the advantages “of being a recipient of White privilege,” offers a “privilege aptitude test” for students, and requires students to openly discuss questions such as “What does ‘White privilege’ mean to you?”
On its website, the National Equity Project lists Tulsa Public Schools as one of the organization’s school-district clients, alongside districts in other states such as the Berkeley Unified School District, Chicago Public Schools, and San Francisco Unified School District. Tulsa appears to be the only Oklahoma district listed.
The use of National Equity Project training in Tulsa Public Schools coincides with the district generating some of the worst academic outcomes among the more than 500 school districts in Oklahoma. State tests administered in spring 2021 showed that 89 percent of all students testing in all subjects in Tulsa Public Schools scored below grade level, and 64 percent were effectively more than a year behind. Among Tulsa’s third-grade students, 92 percent tested below grade level in English with 74 percent more than a year behind.
As of publication, Tulsa Public Schools had not responded to a request for comment.