Last Friday, Oklahoma’s governor Kevin Stitt (R) signed legislation that would prohibit state schools from teaching courses that teach critical-race theory or mandatory diversity training.
Oklahoma’s anti-critical race theory bill has awakened a controversy within the state with the Oklahoma City school board unanimously voting against the measure and with board member Ruth Veales calling it a bill drafted “in order to protect white fragility” and qualified the law as an “insult”.
Lawmakers supporting of the bill have contested these allegations with Governor Stitt saying that although these type of conversations about race should still take place, “we should be able to teach history without labeling a young child as an oppressor” while the Oklahoma GOP lauded the signing of the bill as a way to make sure kids “are not indoctrinated by leftist ideologies”.
Opponents of the bill have also raised concerns about the timing of the bill when the state is nearing the 100 years of the 1921 Tusla Race Massacre with state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister saying he was “troubled by the message this bill sends” and members of the black clergy of Oklahoma also signed a letter urging Governor Stitt to prevent the bill to ever become law.
What’s really in Oklahoma’s Anti Critical Race Theory Bill?
It is usual for politicians and stakeholders to package legislation into nicely fitted narratives that make them easy to sell to the broader public. Democrats label any GOP electoral bill as “voter suppression” and Republicans have also used similar tactics when opposing Democratic bills on issues like gun control or taxes. Oklahoma’s HB 1775 (the official code of the critical race theory bill) also follow this pattern.
Supporters have touted the bill as a remedy to prevent controversial critical race theory to be mandatory in state schools, while opponents have rallied against the bill by saying it “prohibits much-needed discussions about race and racism”. In order to get more sense of the bill, we need to go to the primary source itself: the text of the approved HB 1775.
The four-page long law has three sections detailing the new principles the state education system should now follow. Firstly, the short length of the document let us know that this is far from an overarching overhaul of Oklahoma’s education system and the sometimes vague language of the text would surely be put to the test if universities or school boards really want to get their courses taught in class.
The first section of the bill is by far the most important one, with its two subsections actually containing the bulk of the provisions the school system should follow, while the other two sections are short paragraphs concerned with rather procedural aspects.
The first subsection clearly states that no student that is part of the Oklahoma State University system or that is enrolled in high school must be compelled to take part in “any form of mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counselling” while making it clear that this type of courses can still be offered to students but only on a “voluntary” basis. The section also bans any “orientation or requirement” that bases its teaching on “any form of race or sex stereotyping”.
The second subsection of the bill enumerates the type of content and attitudes that state education employees (teachers, administrators, etc) should teach. The list enumerates at least eight ideas that are henceforth prohibited from the state-based curriculum, including:
- Saying that individuals “by virtue of his or her race or sex” is “inherently oppressive, sexist, or racist”
- Defending adverse treatment to certain individuals “solely or partly because of his or her race or sex”
- Arguing that “members of one sex or race” should not treat members of other race or sex “without respect of race or sex”
- Claiming that an “individual’s moral character” is “determined by his or her race or sex”
- Teaching that individuals “bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by members of their same race or sex”
- Saying that “individuals should feel discomfort, guilt, or anguish” based on “his or her race or sex”.
- Teaching that “meritocracy or traits such as hard work ethics” should be considered as racist or sexist concepts that were created “to oppress members of other race or sex”.
The bill mandates to the state board of education and the Oklahoma State regents for higher education to create rules in order to enforce the provisions drafted in the legislation, which must then be finally approved by the state legislature.
The language of the bill never refers to the specific term of “critical race theory’ nor it prohibits schools from engaging in difficult discussions about the history of racism in the country or the state. What the language of the bill appears to do is to set guidelines for having an educational process where race should not be taught as the definitive factor in an individual’s lives.
Nevertheless, it is still out on the open the way the bill will be actually implemented as it is the state board of education who needs to actually write the state rules on how the legislation would be implemented, while the language in some provisions of the law is vague enough to create judicial litigation.
What is clear is that Oklahoma’s HB 1775 is just another battle on the ongoing cultural war that has become one of the dominant forces in American politics.