New Bills to Watch This Legislative Session
Public schools have become the battle ground for culture wars across the United States. And it’s no wonder. Get parents riled up (remember Sarah Palin’s Mama Grizzly Coalition?) and you can manipulate your way to completely destroying public schools before anyone even realizes it has happened.
I would guess most parents would want their children to learn critical thinking. They would want their kids to be able to identify fact from fiction, opinion from scientific fact. When children learn to think, to reason, to understand how to find informed sources as opposed to conspiracies and fear-mongering entertainment sources, they will be well on their way to becoming functioning adults. The irony is that many of the same parents who want their children to be educated are succumbing to fear tactics.
When an individual or an organization or a group can instill fear in parents, whether it’s fear of vaccines or critical race theory or sexual orientation or gender equality, then they have an extremely powerful opportunity to exploit those parents. Fear makes people angry. And anger causes them to act.
If people can be divided, if communities can be torn apart fighting over non-issues, then public education can be destroyed while we’re looking the other way.
Some representatives in the Oklahoma Legislature have been working hard on creating non-issue legislation this session. If some of these bills pass, it would be a good time to get out of teaching.
Here are a few examples:
SB 1142 by Sen. Standridge
This bill says that parents can request that books they don’t like be removed from public school libraries. If the book isn’t removed within 30 days, then the school employee will be fired and can’t be employed in a public school for two years. There’s some financial incentive for the parents, too. If that book stays on the self, the parent can sue the school for $10,000 every day that the book remains on the shelf.
So, if you’ve always wanted to get rid of “Captain Underpants,” here’s your chance! The bill states: No public school district, public charter school, or public school library shall maintain in its inventory or promote books that make as their primary subject the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classification, sexual identity, or gender identity or books that are of a sexual nature that a reasonable parent or legal guardian would want to know of or approve of prior to their child being exposed to it.
Who is making the call on which books violate this mandate? Remember when some parents were up in arms about “Harry Potter”? They were sure the wizardry and magic in the books would somehow warp their children. But wasn’t Jesus an anti-hero like Harry? Doing good, helping people? Here’s a list of the American Library Association’s list of most frequently banned books. Being banned means the book usually gets a lot more reads, so check out this list! https://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top100
And then there’s HB 2988 by Representative Olsen.
This one seeks to ban teachers from teaching any part of the 1619 Project. The first point – that teachers can’t teach that “America has more culpability, in general, than other nations for the institution of slavery” sounds a little bit like an 8-year-old saying, “Yeah, I threw that spitball but what about when you threw two spitballs.”
The second point that you can’t teach “That one race is the unique oppressor in the institution of slavery,” and point three, “That another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery,” made me wonder where he learned U.S. history. Were the oppressors green aliens and the oppressed purple smurfs? Of course white people were oppressors and Black people were oppressed.
It goes on to say more ridiculous nonsense about withholding state funding for institutions who don’t comply with Rep. Olsen’s version of U.S. History. This should send a chill down the spines of any teacher or institution who values free exchange of ideas and classroom autonomy.
Speaking of intellectual freedom and academic autonomy, Sen. Standridge seeks to put a nail in that coffin with SB 1470.
I don’t totally understand this one. We do have religious freedom in the United States. We can all worship or not worship as we want. We don’t live under anyone’s religious law. We also have separation of church and state to help prevent one person’s take on religion to dominate in a public classroom and the like. This law apparently says that if an employee of a school (usually that would be a teacher) somehow presents something in the classroom that is in opposition to a student’s religious beliefs then that person (teacher) should be fired and the student’s parents can also collect $10,000 in damages every time the students’ religious beliefs are opposed.
That one has a lot of holes in it. So, if my child, who let’s say has the closely held belief that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the earth and the teacher was teaching evolution, and my child was shocked to find that the moon is not made of grated Parmesan, then I could ask that the teacher be removed from the classroom and if the teacher were not removed, I could collect $10,000? It’s a win-win.
Now, SB 1647 by Senator Treat is an interesting bill that warrants some following.
It’s called the “Oklahoma Empowerment Act” or as I like to call it the “Kill Public Education Act”
In a nutshell, the state is going to abdicate its constitutional responsibility to the education of Oklahoma’s children. Instead, the state will give the parent a “Backpack Full of Cash” (I stole that from the title of a documentary that outlines how charters drain money and services from public schools).
On the surface, it might sound great to get a pile of cash to send a child anywhere or maybe just take them out of school altogether. But there are no checks on how the money will be spent or how the child is doing. There’s always the question, too, about whether or not tax dollars should be used at religious schools. And, will those schools be mandated to take whatever students want to go there, as public schools are?
It sounds like school choice, but it’s school destruction. Does every parent know exactly how, where and when they want their child educated? Do they have the means to find a school, get the child to the school (if there’s room for the child) and then to use the money wisely to educate the child? I know some people in my neighborhood right now who would probably not even bother to take their kids to school. They may “homeschool” them by putting them in front of the TV.
Choice is not choice if it is not an equitable choice. It’s an immoral abdication of our obligation to care for and educate our most vulnerable citizens.
So, support this bill if you want to say good-bye to the greater good of public education.
And, along the same lines is Senator Dahm’s SB 1420.
This is a voucher bill called a “scholarship” bill. Again, it might help a handful of kids go to a private school, but there are so many problems with it. One of the main issues is that research shows that kids who use vouchers to go to private schools don’t do better.
Senate Bill 1268 by Senator Boren invites parents to review what teachers are teaching and remove their kids if they object. I kind of think parents could always talk to teachers about the curriculum and what their kids are learning. Do we really need a law? Can’t people just have a civil discussion? But again, it’s all about sex and that sex stuff and opting out. But, it might not be a bad idea to opt out of all the data collection schools are doing on kids.
Social Emotional Learning has become a buzzword in the past couple of years, mainly because edutech companies in Silicon Valley have seen an opportunity to cash in on creating curricula that schools can buy and plug kids into without worrying about whether the teacher or the untrained adult in the classroom knows anything about connecting with children.
Senate Bill 1442 addresses, I think, some of the pre-packaged “social-emotional” stuff and, instead, supports play-based learning and developmentally appropriate education. I don’t think that anyone would be AGAINST children learning about their emotions and learning to have healthy social interactions. It’s the WAY it is done that can be problematic. If it’s something that is on a screen where data is being gathered on young children, then that is probably not a good way to promote social emotional learning. The best way to provide social emotional learning is to have a trained, highly qualified teacher from an accredited college or university program who understands children and is able to connect with them. This could be supported by social workers or staff trained in how to connect with young children. OU-Tulsa has a wealth of resources in terms of research, students and professors who could create a site-based, personalized environment that supports children, teachers and staff.
There are so many interesting bills being introduced in this Legislative session. These are bills that could become LAWS. Many of them would fundamentally change not only how your children are taught, but also how the state would be in charge of what happens in your child’s schools. Pay attention.