On Thursday, April 29, the OK House passed HB 1775 that claims to protect children and university students from being made to “feel bad” about their gender, sexuality, or race. The claim that this is the goal of any educator is ridiculous; I don’t hear a lot of “I want to make kids feel bad” when I ask students planning to teach why they’re entering the profession.
The bill doesn’t name critical race theory (CRT) specifically, but it’s the boogeyman in the narrative as evidenced by the debate on the House floor. Anti-public school interest groups work to demonize public schools by falsely framing public schools as anti-white, anti-male, anti-conservative spaces. Policy makers would do well to talk with real teachers and public school families in Oklahoma, as this is simply not the case. Firstly, Oklahoma teachers closely align with the state’s population in their political affiliation (in 2016, SoonerPoll found Oklahoma teachers were 3% more likely to be registered Republican than other OK voters). Secondly, whatever their affiliation, there is no sudden wave of teachers forcing their beliefs onto children. Finally, CRT is not about hating white people as some legislators claim. Rather, its aim is the elimination of racism – not only individual actions but also structural racism, which is how racist policies/practices affect all of our lives.
CRT asks us to consider how we can work toward fulfilling the ideals of our nation. At its core, CRT is a call to good citizenship — to celebrate progress and to acknowledge there is work yet to be done. To call this Marxist is so absurd it’s difficult to understand how such an idea could emerge, but here I am having to put in writing that countless capitalists, myself included, work to end racism.
To name just a few examples, structural racism is the reason almost 67 years after Brown v. Board, schools are still highly segregated and inequitably funded. It’s why women of color face disparities in their likelihood of dying from childbirth-related complications, with Black women 3 times more likely and American Indian women 2.5 times more likely to die than white women. Finally, structural racism is visible in our state Capitol, where women and people of color remain significantly under-represented.
As for the gender and sexuality segment of the bill, according to the 2019 GLSEN School Climate Snapshot Report, 76% of OK LGBTQ students reported some form of harassment in school. Schools must be safe and supportive learning environments for all students. While the bill doesn’t exclude voluntary counseling for children, it’s naïve to assume educators will automatically know how to foster the well-being of LGBTQ teens, e.g., or effectively work with LGBTQ families. The GLSEN data makes it clear that we have work to do to ensure the well-being of our LBGTQ youth.
This bill has already served its primary purpose — an opportunity for some policy makers to rail against a supposed effort to brainwash our children. As I write this, the bill sits on the governor’s desk, and our teachers are finishing up what is arguably the most difficult school year on record. Whatever the Governor’s action, Oklahoma families must continue to reject the barrage of misinformation about their communities’ teachers. We know the incredible value of our public schools and the care and commitment to our kids that our teachers demonstrate every day.
I wonder if this false narrative will come up again when private school vouchers expansions (or “tax credit scholarships”) are again proposed, despite widespread opposition…time will tell.