Lawmakers, Educators Divided Over Bills Targeting What’s Taught in Classrooms

Beverly Cantrell - January 31, 2022 7:26 am

Education will be in the spotlight at the State Capitol this year with dozens of bills filed on the topic. But many of them have a particular focus: legislating what can and cannot be taught in the classroom.

State Sen. Nathan Dahm filed a bill compelling schools to teach at least 45 minutes on “victims of Communism” on or around November 7th.

A bill from Sen. George Burns would ban social studies teachers in courses with graduation requirements from being forced to discuss “currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.”

Sen. Rob Standridge has also filed multiple bills in education this session. One of his would block school libraries from having books on sex, sexual preference or gender identity if a parent asks for it to be removed.

It’s just school is not the right place,” said Standridge. “If children and parents want to do those things, they need to do it proactively on their own.”

The Senator, also a sponsor of the bill last year banning Critical Race Theory in the classroom, claims these types of bills are needed, and that political ideologies are being pushed in Oklahoma classrooms.

“School is their own worst enemy because the 5 or 10% of people that are controlling these things are going to ruin public school for everybody if they’re not careful,” said Standridge.

But Scott Farmer, the Superintendent at Fort Gibson Public Schools and the Legislative Chairman for the Oklahoma Association of School Administrators, says things like Critical Race Theory just aren’t an issue in Oklahoma schools.

“In the 20 years I’ve been an educator, 10 as superintendent, not once have we sat down and discussed this idea of critical race theory or CRT when we’ve developed our curriculum,” said Farmer.

Farmer says legislation on what’s happening in the classroom isn’t new, but it is now in-focus nationally. And he says these new bills are having an impact on educators in a state already facing a teacher shortage.

“They also land squarely on the desk of teachers. And our teaching staff has been through a lot lately and I just think it can be counterintuitive and counterproductive to moving the needle in Oklahoma,” said Farmer.

When asked if these types of bills have made teachers look at leaving the profession, Farmer responded, “Yea, I think it has.”

And new data seems to show parents share educators’ concerns. A December survey from the non-profit Learning Heroes shows 68% of parents are worried about politicians who are not lawmakers making decisions about what students learn in the classroom.

But Sen. Standridge says these bills are in response to what he’s hearing from parents.

“The ultimate arbiter of the child’s upbringing is the parent. And if parents are telling us that schools aren’t doing it the way they want it done, then it’s our job to fix that. Period,” says Standridge.

So where is the line? How do we know when to let teachers teach and where lawmakers need to step in?

It’s an area educators and lawmakers remain divided.

“I’d say you draw it at reading, writing, arithmetic,” said Standridge. “The job of teachers is to teach education, not morality, not things that they know is a parents’ responsibility.”

“Let’s trust our electorate to elect school boards to help manage that and keep our decisions local. But let’s go as a legislature at 23rd and Lincoln and let’s invest in a robust way in public education as we’ve never seen before in Oklahoma,” said Farmer.

The legislative session begins on February 7th.

 

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