OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill attempting to ban the teaching of “critical race theory” in Oklahoma’s public schools cleared the Legislature Thursday.
House Bill 1775, which also bans mandatory gender and sexual diversity training for students enrolled in Oklahoma colleges and universities, now advances to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s desk. It passed overwhelmingly along largely party lines.
State Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, the measure’s author, said critical race theorists are pressing a “grim and pessimistic narrative” about gender and race in America. The critical race theory movement attempts to examine how race intersects with American society, and how the legacy of that racism shapes issues today.
“The people who are pushing ideas like critical race theory, have to have conflict — class conflict, race conflict or some other conflict,” West said, adding that critical race theory is based on “Marxist” ideology. “They have to have an enemy that they can point to. It’s up to us to stop this because we are all one race - the human race.”
He said the measure doesn’t stop the teaching of the past. It simply says that teachers won’t make anyone feel guilty for something that happened in the past.
West said the same critical race theory supporters who push for diversity and inclusion are marginalizing or silencing dissenting voices.
“Let’s shed light on critical race theory to show it for what it is — a complete deception that will absolutely destroy our nation,” West said. “In this time of cancel culture and virtue signaling, we must have courage.”
State Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, said critical race theorists are simply saying that racism is a part of the American fabric. She said it teaches about racial inequities between Black and white Americans, and how that shaped today’s wealth divisions, the gap in home ownership and academic achievement.
“We’re talking about it today because even today the effects of racism permeate American society,” she said.
Goodwin, who is Black, said the legislation boils down to the fact that some white Americans think they are being made to feel guilty about something that happened before they were born.
She also said she doesn’t know a single teacher who is teaching children to hate each other or that they’re responsible for racism.
State Rep. Chad Caldwell, R-Enid, said if he had been told when he started in the House seven years ago that he would have to vote for a bill that essentially says children shouldn’t be judged on the basis of their skin color, he wouldn’t have believed it.
Caldwell said there are some who are more concerned with “stirring up angst” on Twitter, rather than “simply focusing on the very plain language of this bill.”
“This is not an attempt to ignore history,” Caldwell said. “Surely, we can have an open and honest dialogue about the history of not only our country, but of this world, both good and bad, without necessarily having to label someone as good or bad based on the color of their skin. What this bill is telling Oklahomans is that our schools will not teach that one race is better or worse than another. That’s it.”
State Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, said he feared a “sanitized version” of American and Oklahoma history would be taught in K-12 classrooms around the state so as not to offend any students.
“Our children will suffer for they will not know their history,” he said. “Is that what we want?”
He said lawmakers are chasing “boogeymen” to score political points, and in doing so are “committing to a massive government overreach into our classrooms.”
Waldron questioned who would be responsible for policing teachers’ speech, and how a school district would be able to know whether a history lesson might make a student feel “guilty.”
“The legacy of American history is complex,” he said. “Slavery and the genocide of indigenous people is foundational to our history. We cannot escape it. We cannot teach Oklahoma history without the Trail of Tears.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.