Oklahoma Republican Rep. Wants To Limit How Slavery Is Taught in Schools

In Summary

Oklahoma Rep. Jim Olsen has introduced House Bill 2988, which would limit how slavery is taught in public schools across the state.

As the debate over critical race theory and its role in a teachers’ curriculum continues, the Oklahoma state legislature has sponsored House Bill 2988, a bill to limit how slavery is taught in schools, per NBC News

House Bill 2988, introduced by Republican state Rep. Jim Olsen, would limit how slavery is taught by prohibiting state agencies and public school districts from assigning blame to a single race as well as teaching “that one race is the unique oppressor” or “another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery.” 

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“I wanted to write this bill in order to assure that our young people are taught our history, properly and in proper context,” Olsen told KOCO 5 News, adding “the reality is that all races have been slave owners and all races have been victims of slaves, of slavery.” 

The bill also prohibits the use of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which launched in 2019 and intends to redefine the country’s history by emphasizing the effects of slavery and African American successes through a series of essays and stories, BNC previously reported

House Bill 2988 states, in part, “No state agency, school district, charter school, online instruction funded in any manner by the Oklahoma Legislature, or personnel or agent of such state agency, school district, charter school, or online instruction shall teach, use, or provide for use by any pupil any curricula, instructional materials, or assignments designed to teach components of the 1619 Project as part of any curricula, course syllabi, or instruction in any course or program of study.”

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Prohibited topics also include teaching that America bears a greater share of responsibility for the institution of slavery than other nations; that America had slavery more extensively and for a longer period of time than other nations; or that the primary and overarching purpose of the founding of America was the establishment and perpetuation of slavery.

Failure to comply would result in the state Department of Education withholding up to 5% of a school’s monthly state funds, which would be returned if the school afterwards complied, per NBC News. Ten percent of state financing for two-year and four-year higher education institutions could also be withheld. 

“1619 Project” creator Nikole Hannah-Jones said in a tweet that the anti-history memory laws “literally are opposed to truth,” noting that “we were 3rd to last in the Americas to abolish [slavery].” 

The bill comes after Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1775 into law, prohibiting public school teachers from teaching that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex” or that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” 

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as student and educator groups, filed a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the law’s implementation, claiming that restricting race and sex in classrooms is unconstitutional and violates students’ and educators’ First and 14th Amendment rights.

House Bill 2988, if passed, would go into effect on November 1, 2022. 

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