Should we all be able to learn our history, no matter who we are? This topic has been debated and negotiated over the years as different tragic events in history affect what teachers teach in school. In October 2021, a group of educators and civil rights groups sued the state of Oklahoma over a law that limits what can be taught about racism and gender in public schools, universities, and colleges. It is the first federal lawsuit to challenge a law passed that is seeking to ban critical race theory.
The critical race theory is an academic concept, which idea is that race is a social contract, and racism is not just individual bias or prejudice, but something that is rooted in the legal system and foundation. It is used to describe how racism is embedded in all aspects of American life, from healthcare to education to the criminal justice system and that racism is systemic.
The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, among others, argues that House Bill 1775 infringes the free speech of students and teachers and denies students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and girls the opportunity to learn their history. The law, which Republican Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, signed into law, bans the teaching that people (consciously or unconsciously) are inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.
Legislators in Oklahoma defended the passing of House Bill 1775 by stating that it would aid in preventing white students feel personally responsible for past racism. They also went on to mention that the law would protect students of color from racial stereotyping. The group challenging the law declares that it makes it difficult to promote diversity and violates their academic freedom to teach and study topics such as African American history and gender studies.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law group has gotten reports of schools in Oklahoma striking classic literature that tackles the topic of the conflict of racism from the curriculum in response to the law. These novels include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston among others. Teachers have been instructed to refrain from using terms such as “diversity” and “white privilege” during class by school districts.
Oklahoma is now one of five Republican-controlled states that have passed laws limiting what teachers can teach regarding race and gender this year. Other states, such as Alamba, Georgia, and Florida, have put limitations on conversations of race in schools, and states such as Texas approved measures that require schools to present contrasting views on controversial issues.
“I felt like it was a shot at teachers like me who really want to see Black and brown kids really do something with their lives,” said Anthony Crawford, a high school teacher in Oklahoma City, when referring to the new law. “Because they need this part of history. They need to understand what happened to their people”.
Camera, Lauren. “Federal Lawsuit Poses First Challenge to Ban on Teaching Critical Race Theory.” US News, 20 Oct. 2021, www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2021-10-20/federal-lawsuit-poses-first-challenge-to-ban-on-teaching-critical-race-theory
Camera, Lauren. “What Is Critical Race Theory and Why Are People so Upset about It?” US News, 1 June 2021, www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-are-people-so-upset-about-it
Kingkade, Tyler, and Antonia Hylton. “Oklahoma's Anti-Critical Race Theory Law Violates Free Speech Rights, ACLU Suit Says.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 20 Oct. 2021, www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/oklahoma-critical-race-theory-lawsuit-aclu-rcna3276
Sawchuk, Stephen. “What Is Critical Race Theory, and Why Is It under Attack?” Education Week, Education Week, 18 May 2021, www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-critical-race-theory-and-why-is-it-under-attack/2021/05