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A somber yet powerful scene in an Oklahoma classroom, showing a teacher of African descent standing alone, thoughtfully reading a book about African American history. The room is dimly lit, with a single beam of light highlighting the teacher against a backdrop of empty chairs, symbolizing the silenced discussions and restricted curriculum due to anti-CRT legislation. The image captures the resilience of educators facing educational challenges.
Resilience in Silence An Oklahoma Teacher Contemplates the Unspoken Stories in an Empty Classroom

How Oklahoma’s Teachers Are Fighting Back against “Anti-Woke” Legislation

Exploring the courageous response of Oklahoma’s educators to restrictive anti-CRT laws and their impact on Black history teaching.

By Darius Spearman (africanelements)

About the author: Darius Spearman is a professor of Black Studies at San Diego City College, where he has been pursuing his love of teaching since 2007. He is the author of several books, including Between The Color Lines: A History of African Americans on the California Frontier Through 1890. You can visit Darius online at africanelements.org

Key Takeaways:

  1. Rise in Educational Activism: In response to anti-CRT laws, educators and leaders are taking a stand to ensure the teaching of authentic Black history.
  2. Kristi Williams’ Initiative: Williams’ program in Tulsa serves as a beacon of educational activism, challenging the narrative imposed by restrictive laws.
  3. Impact on Teaching: The fear induced by anti-CRT laws is causing educators to shy away from vital discussions on race and racism.

Confronting ‘Woke’ Education Criticism

In the heartland of America, Oklahoma’s educators and community leaders are taking a firm stand. They’re confronting a wave of criticism against what some conservative state lawmakers label as ‘woke’ education. This movement, deeply rooted in the Black community, seeks to preserve and teach an authentic, unwhitewashed history of African Americans, a direct response to the campaign against critical race theory (CRT).

“More and more, we’re seeing leaders and educators in the Black community take it upon themselves to teach the non-whitewashed Black history that white conservative state lawmakers and education officials have launched a propaganda-reliant war against.” – (NewsOne)

The criticism of CRT and ‘woke’ education isn’t just rhetoric. It’s resulted in legislation that directly impacts what can and cannot be taught in schools. Despite these challenges, black community leadership is rising to the occasion, ensuring that the true and full story of Black history is not erased or diluted in educational materials.

Kristi Williams’ Stand in Tulsa

One prominent figure in this educational resistance is Kristi Williams from Tulsa. Williams, through her educational activism, offers a powerful counter-narrative to the state’s restrictive laws. Her program is more than just a series of lessons; it’s a symbol of resistance and a beacon of hope for preserving Black history.

“We will remember the humanity, glory and suffering of our ancestors, and honor the struggle of our elders.” – Kristi Williams (NewsOne)

Williams’ initiative embodies the spirit of educational activism, providing an alternative pathway for learning about African American history and culture. It’s an initiative that not only educates but empowers and inspires, offering lessons that extend far beyond the classroom walls.

The Challenges Teachers Face

The introduction of anti-CRT laws has brought forth significant teaching challenges in Oklahoma. Educators are finding themselves in a precarious position, where discussing race and racism could potentially cost them their jobs. This fear has led to a noticeable shift in how teachers approach these topics, if they choose to address them at all.

“The law has had a chilling effect on teachers who now fear that touching on race and racism in their classrooms could cost them their jobs…” – (Connecticut Public)

This environment of fear and uncertainty is detrimental not just to educators but to the students they serve. It hampers the ability to provide a comprehensive and honest educational experience, one that acknowledges and explores the complexities of race and racism in America. The teaching challenges brought about by these laws are not just hurdles to overcome; they represent a fundamental threat to the integrity of education.

Upholding Black Excellence in Education

Despite the restrictive laws in Oklahoma, educators are finding innovative ways to continue teaching about black excellence in education. This concept is crucial, especially in schools with predominantly African American students, as it helps to instill a sense of pride and achievement.

“But when that bill passed, the first thing they told us was that that had to stop,” Angela Mitchell on teaching Black excellence. (Connecticut Public)

The Importance of Teaching Black Excellence:

  • Identity Affirmation: Reinforces a positive self-image among African American students.
  • Historical Awareness: Ensures students are aware of the significant contributions of Black individuals throughout history.
  • Motivation and Inspiration: Acts as a source of motivation and inspiration for students to achieve their full potential.

Despite the law’s implications, educators like Angela Mitchell are dedicated to ensuring that the message of black excellence in education remains a central part of their teaching, underscoring the idea that excellence is not about being better than others but about recognizing one’s inherent worth and capabilities.

Grassroots Initiatives: Filling the Educational Gap

Grassroots educational initiatives are emerging as vital platforms for providing comprehensive African American history education. Programs like Black History Saturdays in Tulsa offer an in-depth and unvarnished look at African American history, a narrative often diluted in public school curriculums.

“We’re reclaiming this,” Dewayne Dickens on the significance of Black History Saturdays.

(Connecticut Public)

These initiatives represent a powerful response to the limitations imposed by the state’s laws. They not only educate but also empower communities, giving them the tools and knowledge to understand and appreciate their history. The role of grassroots educational initiatives in preserving and disseminating Black history cannot be overstated, especially in a time when such education is under threat.

Navigating Vague Educational Laws

One of the significant challenges posed by Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law is its vagueness, which invites arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement against teachers. This uncertainty creates a minefield for educators, who must navigate these unclear legal waters while trying to provide a meaningful education.

“The vagueness in the law means that teachers never know what trap they’re going to fall into,” Kristi Williams. (Connecticut Public)

Challenges Posed by Vague Educational Laws:

  • Legal Ambiguity: Teachers are uncertain about what is permissible to teach, leading to self-censorship.
  • Fear of Reprisal: The risk of facing disciplinary action, including the revocation of teaching licenses, looms large.
  • Educational Quality: The quality of education suffers as crucial topics related to race and history are avoided.

This environment of fear and uncertainty due to vague educational laws not only affects the educators but also deprives students of a well-rounded understanding of history, particularly the complex and often painful aspects of racial history in America.

The Impact of Restrictive Laws on Diverse Teaching Methods

The introduction of Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law has led to a significant shift in diverse teaching methods. Teachers are now more cautious, avoiding literature and discussions that could be seen as controversial under the new law.

“Educators at all levels are blacklisting books by diverse authors and adapting their instructional approaches to avoid raising complex questions about race and gender.” – ACLU Lawsuit (EdWeek)

Table: Effects of Anti-CRT Law on Classroom Materials

Material TypeImpact of Law
Diverse LiteratureReduction in the use of books by authors like Zora Neale Hurston and Maya Angelou.
Classroom DiscussionsAvoidance of in-depth discussions on race and racism.
Educational ResourcesLimited use of resources that explore complex questions about race and gender.

These changes are a response to the diverse teaching impacts of the law, which inadvertently stifle the richness and diversity of educational content. This shift has profound implications for how students understand and interact with the world around them.

Legal Challenges and the Fight for Educational Freedom

The ACLU’s lawsuit against Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law highlights the broader implications of such legislation on educational freedom and teacher autonomy. The lawsuit claims the law is unconstitutional, infringing on free speech and equal protection rights.

“The [law’s] vague, overbroad, and viewpoint discriminatory provisions leave Oklahoma educators with an impossible—and unconstitutional—choice.” – ACLU Lawsuit (EdWeek)

The legal challenges to crt bans are not just about the law’s immediate effects but also about defending the principles of academic freedom and the right to a comprehensive education.

National Educational Debates: A Reflection of Societal Tensions

“School districts nationally are ground zero for hotly charged debates over race and over COVID-19 mitigation policies.”

– (EdWeek)

Oklahoma’s anti-CRT laws are a microcosm of national debates over race and education. These debates reflect broader societal tensions and disagreements about how history, particularly the darker aspects of racial history, should be taught in schools.

Table: National Debate Over CRT in Education

StateNature of Debate
TennesseeComplaints about children’s books covering historical figures like Ruby Bridges.
TexasTeachers asked to cull classroom libraries to align with new educational laws.

These national educational debates are shaping the future of how race, history, and culture are taught in American classrooms.

Unraveling the Long-Term Effects of CRT Laws

The long-term effects of anti-CRT laws like those in Oklahoma on teaching and learning are still unfolding. High-profile examples and controversies indicate that these laws may have far-reaching and troubling consequences for education.

“The full effect of the laws on everyday teaching and learning still isn’t clear. But they have already led to some high profile, troubling examples.” – (EdWeek)

The long-term effects of crt laws on education raise concerns about the depth and integrity of historical education, particularly regarding the teaching of race and racism in America.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is CRT, and why is it controversial in education?
A: Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an academic framework that examines the impact of race and racism in society. Its introduction into educational curricula has sparked debates about how race-related topics should be taught in schools.

Q: What are the main concerns of educators regarding Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law?
A: Educators are concerned about the vagueness of the law, the limitations it imposes on teaching race-related topics, and the potential for disciplinary action, including the revocation of teaching licenses.

Q: How are grassroots initiatives responding to these educational challenges?
A: Grassroots initiatives, like Black History Saturdays, are providing alternative platforms for teaching comprehensive African American history, filling the gaps left by public school curriculums.

Works Cited

  • NewsOne article on Oklahoma’s educators (NewsOne)
  • Connecticut Public article on Kristi Williams’ initiative (Connecticut Public)
  • EdWeek article on the ACLU’s lawsuit against Oklahoma’s anti-CRT law