Crisis in the Classroom: Critical Race Theory Bill Creates Controversy

Beverly Cantrell - January 5, 2022 7:16 am

In Oklahoma, critical race theory is already banned in the classroom. But now, one Oklahoma lawmaker wants to further limit what educators teach when it comes to racism and slavery.

It’s a new bill that’s quickly ushering in controversy.

“There are people that want to teach America has simply been an evil country. And that’s not historically accurate,” said Rep. Jim Olsen.

“Now it doesn’t prohibit the covering of slavery or that it was an evil,” Olsen said. “But there are limits to how you can teach it.”

Those limits ban teaching components of the 1619 Project including:

  • Any teaching that America has more culpability, in general than other nations for the institution of slavery.
  • That one race is the unique oppressor in the institution of slavery.
  • That another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery.

“The reality is that every race has been guilty of being slave owners and every race has been the victim at one time or another,” Olsen said.

The bill is already triggering a backlash from activists and educators.

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who led the 1619 Project, called it an “anti-history memory law” that’s “opposed to truth.”

And in a new “Know Your Rights” document created to help teachers navigate these difficult discussions, National Educators Association President Becky Pringle described the new regulations on race as a “dangerous attempt to stoke fears and rewrite history.”

“The truth of the matter is, we do have a history of racial animus,” said Rev. Markel Hutchins, President and CEO of Movement Forward Inc. “We do have African Americans that have been disproportionately disadvantaged in the United States of America.”

The bill also comes with the condition that schools that fail to obey the new policy could have up to 10% of their monthly state aid taken away.

“If the issue was identified and addressed pretty quickly, nothing bad would happen,” Olsen said. “But if somebody wanted to dig in their heels, then the bill does reference taking away some funding from the offending school.”

“It should be up to historians and educators to set the curriculum, not politicians,’ said Oklahoma educator Emily Clark.

Clark says this would only continue to discourage teachers from covering any race-related topics with their students.

“The more of these types of laws are going to be pushed through, the less open dialogue we’ll be able to have with our students and I think we all agree we want to push forward and become a less racist society,” Clark said.

But Olsen is adamant. His only objective is limiting what he calls lies not ending race discussions in the classroom entirely.

“We want our young people to understand history, but in a balanced and contextual way,” Olsen said. “If you teach in an unbalanced way, the end result is that they grow up hating America.”

 

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