Education Advocacy Group Speaks Out Against HB 1775
Note: The following statement on HB 1775 is from Citizens United for a Better Educational System (C.U.B.E.S. Tulsa). It has been edited for length.
The ill-conceived Oklahoma State House Bill 1775 law and its “rules” ban educators from teaching the truths of Oklahoma and U.S. histories, the truth of the United States’ white male-dominated cultural, political and economic systems. Those systems have perpetuated racism, sexism, classism and ableism (discrimination of disabled people) in America.
By design, this law will revise American and Oklahoma history. The revisions will prevent the internalization of historical truths and facts that serve as life-lessons for our children’s moral compass. This void in history will debilitate the context required to eradicate historical and current political and economic injustices—to be ignorant of history is to be ignorant of present realities. Such ignorance prevents our children and our communities from creating a future of equity and equality.
The main strategy of those who created and passed HB 1775 is to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in Oklahoma schools. What is CRT? Critical Race theory (CRT) is a legal, scholarly and academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States who critically examined the relationship of race, racism and power. The embedded historical racism in U.S. social institutions (school systems, housing, healthcare, criminal justice) perpetuate inequities today. CRT theorists view mainstream education as one of the many institutions that historically and contemporarily serve to reproduce unequal power relations and academic outcomes. Schools have played a powerful role in creating and maintaining racial inequality.
The authors and sponsors of HB 1775 offered no credible evidence regarding why this law would be necessary for any Oklahoma school district, charter school or virtual charter school. There was never public identification of citizens advocating or supporting a “1775” law prior to the creation of the bill.
As Calisha Williams Bradley, Oklahoma School Board of Education member, stated in a July 17, 2021, interview in the Tulsa World, “…Critical Race Theory…is not taught in K-12 education—we are solving for an issue that is not present. Even the State Department (of Education) shared there have been zero complaints about CRT, or race or topics that were uncomfortable surfacing to require this legislation or these rules.”
There are eight “discriminatory principles” in the 1775 law. One bans teaching course content that would make “…any individual…feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” This mandate is about the authors and sponsors who want to stay in power by appearing to have a concern about individuals’ “comfort level.” Yet, they have never taken comprehensive or strategic actions to pass legislation or fund education to the level needed for transformational systemic change. Change which would eliminate the “discomfort” and “anguish” experienced by too many children, particularly children of color. These children feel the debilitating impact of poverty and hunger. They feel the anguish of their schools’ and their districts’ alienating cultures. Curricula and teaching are culturally irresponsive and irrelevant. They have attended schools that have made them feel “dumb” and demoralized. They are shamed, alienated by low expectations, biases and stereotypes. Our children carry the burden of “guilt” because of their chronic academic failures. Soon after graduation from high school, many of our children feel the “discomfort” and “anguish” of not being prepared for college, trade school and/or gainful employment.
The legislators who sponsored the “emergency” 1775 law and the Governor have never expressed (for the public record) authentic moral outrage or righteous indignation about the above generational issues and related barriers. Those issues and barriers have contributed to the intolerable, conditions and outcomes that negatively affect our children. Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma State Legislators have not taken actions against the generational negative impact and manifestations of systemic racism, classism, sexism and ableism. Moreover, “discomfort and guilt” are personal. Therefore, being alert for personal reactions will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a teacher to discern and measure for each child in the classroom. HB 1775 will be a barrier to achieving an Oklahoma and American society free of racial and sexual discrimination, marginalization and disenfranchisement. The 1775 law will play a significant role in obstructing, by design, all endeavors meant to institute systemic actions required to ensure political justice, economic justice and human rights for all Oklahomans.
The bill’s punitive consequences for educators who are not compliant with the law will make teachers second-guess what they are saying and teaching. To enforce compliance and to punish non-compliance would impede teachers’ responsiveness to their students’ unique academic and developmental needs. Teaching is an art that is about building relationships and having a “romance” with teaching and love for children. The pressure, stresses and strains of compliance to the law will affect teachers’ ability to teach with an ease of mind and confidence. This has the potential to force teachers to look for teaching opportunities at private schools, move out of state or leave the teaching profession. This is something Oklahoma schools can ill-afford. The enforcement of HB 1775 will force educators to make adaptations to half-truth mindsets, irrelevant/nonresponsive teaching practices and relationships. It will encourage bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all practices, which will have dire consequences for our children’s achievement, growth and development.
There is no reason, per Section 3, that the law should have been designated an emergency. There was no emergency! By declaring an “emergency,” formally structured statewide input never occurred. There were no solicited comments or input from principals, teachers, school staff, families, students, community members, community education advocates or community leaders—by design. HB 1775 is a codified “gag order.”
This law is not what our teachers, children, Tulsa Public School District or the state of Oklahoma require for addressing institutional inequality and inequity. Governor Stitt’s desire to have Oklahoma’s educational system ranked in the nation’s top 10 is a mere pipedream. The 1775 law is not a law predicated on defending current or historical truths, courageous actions or moral righteousness. The law is predicated on the fear the sponsors and powerbrokers have of losing their control and influence over Oklahomans’ lives, thoughts, and political and economic systems. It’s a power struggle. The purpose of the HB 1775 is to maintain and increase the majority of right-leaning legislators’ and Governor Stitt’s grip on power over our lives now and in the future!
Darryl F. Bright is the chairman of C.U.B.E.S. Tulsa