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Not OK: State GOP Rep Introduces Bill to Limit How Slavery Is Taught In Oklahoma Schools

Not OK: State GOP Rep Introduces Bill to Limit How Slavery Is Taught In Oklahoma Schools

A new bill proposed in the Oklahoma State Legislature would limit how slavery is taught in schools and ban teaching that “one race is the unique oppressor” or “victim” in slavery’s history. Rep. Jim Olsen filed House Bill 2988 this month, and it has already caused a backlash from lawmakers and teachers.

Language in the bill stipulates a ban on teaching that America “had slavery more extensively and for a later period of time than other nations.” It also prohibits the use of the 1619 Project, which examined slavery’s role in the founding of America. Led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and published by The New York Times, it has been widely heralded as a major advancement in the way America should be learning about its racial past.

Yorba Linda, CA, Tuesday, November 16, 2021 – An even mix of proponents and opponents to teaching Critical Race Theory are in attendance as the Placentia Yorba Linda School Board discusses a proposed resolution to ban it from being taught in schools. Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)


Olsen’s bill also lays out the punishment for non-compliance. Public schools that fail to comply would see the state Department of Education withhold up to 5 percent of their monthly state funding under the bill. If the entity complied after a violation, funding would be restored. Similarly, state-supported two-year and four-year higher education institutions that fail to comply could have 10 percent of state funding withheld.

The state rep defended his racially insensitive language, saying, “It doesn’t prohibit anybody from teaching that America had slavery, that it was evil. … It doesn’t prohibit teaching that we’re better for not having slavery,” Olsen said. But the backlash was swift and unrelenting.

But this isn’t the first bill tackling the teaching of race to be proposed in Oklahoma. In May, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1775, which prohibited public school teachers from teaching that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race of sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” A coalition of civil rights groups sued the state over that law, arguing that it violates students’ and teachers’ free speech and denies people of color, LGBTQ students, and girls the chance to learn their history.

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