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.
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.
OK Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland) is a racist. pic.twitter.com/vKUIq9X9lW
— Whatever (@heinslmn) December 15, 2021
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.
This is very disturbing. They are cranking this legislation out faster than the courts can keep up. In the meantime, we have no intention of lying to our students or bowing to this assault on truth and academic freedom. https://t.co/EJCczilPGJ
— OUAAUP (@ouaaup) December 14, 2021
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.
State Representative Jim Olsen has called for less government interference in education. So maybe he should just take several seats. https://t.co/zBYlXodt3u
— Gerald Goodridge (@ghgoodridge) December 21, 2021