Oklahoma’s new law on how to teach racial content – House Bill 1775 - has created a lot of rumors about what the bill means.
The law is clear that it bans mandatory diversity training in Oklahoma’s universities, but it is less clear on how it will regulate lessons on racism in grade schools.
Oklahoma’s Public Schools and Colleges are studying what effect – if any – House Bill 1775 will have on curriculum. The bill, banning required diversity training at colleges and regulating racial content for grade schools, was signed by the Governor and immediately went into effect.
Depending on who reads the law, it changes a lot, or not much.
Tulsa Public Schools said the law wouldn’t require any changes to lessons, and Union Public Schools was waiting to see if the law would force any changes to the Oklahoma Academic Standards. The law doesn’t prohibit any content that’s included within the Oklahoma Standards.
“I can't find anything in here that prevents anything bad, it just creates an environment of uncertainty” said University of Tulsa professor Dr. Benjamin Peters.
Dr. Peters said the wording of the law creates confusion that will have a chilling effect on teaching anything race related, because teachers will worry about breaking the law. The law does not regulate teaching at private institutions. “At worst, it's a catastrophic embarrassment around the Centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, that this is the best our legislature can come up with,” said Peters. “When you read the text of it carefully, very little of it strictly prohibits anything that would be a problem, but when you realize how poorly written the bill is, it deliberately muddies and muddles the water so it makes it harder to figure out what is and is not OK.”
For colleges, House Bill 1775 bans required diversity training, but allows voluntary training. It bans racial and gender-based stereotyping or bias.
For grade schools, it bans teaching that one race is superior to another, or that any race is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive. It bans lessons about how anyone should feel guilt or discomfort because of their race or that anyone bears responsibility for past actions by people of their race.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum has been asked to comment several times on the law as the Centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre approaches. The Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, and the John Hope Franklin Center have both criticized the law. Bynum believes the law is misunderstood.
"It doesn't prevent the teaching of facts that can make people uncomfortable, it prevents the teaching of theory and opinion” said Bynum.
The John Hope Franklin Center board judged the law more harshly, saying that it "allows teachers and school administrators to be penalized for teaching students about systematic racism" which in their judgement, “harkens back to the days of Oklahoma's segregation statutes.”