DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — The debate is growing over whether a controversial topic on race should be taught as part of school’s curriculum across the country.
It’s called “critical race theory,” and it’s a movement, or framework, that examines the law and legal institutions in the United States as inherently racist insofar as they function to maintain inequalities between white and Black people.
In Oklahoma, public school teachers would be prohibited from teaching certain concepts of race and racism under a bill given final approval by the state’s House on Thursday.
“What we’re saying is you cannot teach a child that they are racist just because of the color of their skin,” said Oklahoma Republica Senator David Bullard.
Bullard is the bill’s author. A former history teacher himself, he opposes the theory in the classroom. However, he supports the teaching of the Civil Rights Movement, including racist episodes, such as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which took place when mobs of white residents, who were given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and businesses in Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
“This is talking about the actual idea of furthering racism by saying you’re automatically or inherently racist just because of the color of your skin, which was false in 1860, and it’s false now,” Bullard said.
But, not everyone agrees.
“Our state, in the year of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, is saying that we don’t want others to feel bad,” said Cecil Robinson-Woods, a superintendent in Milwood, Oklahoma.
Some teachers and lawmakers like Democratic senator Kevin Matthews call the legislation and the denouncing of critical race theory a slap in the face.
“The critical thinking around how these things happen to keep them from happening again is so important to our history, and it’s so important to our young people to understand,” Matthews said.
On Monday, Arkansas became the latest state to approve a law that prohibits state agencies from teaching employees, contractors or others to believe “divisive concepts.” The concepts include anything that says the U.S. is fundamentally racist or sexist.
Last week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed legislation aimed at preventing schools and universities from “indoctrinating” students through teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
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In Louisiana, the topic is facing widespread opposition from education officials and others. A Louisiana Republican lawmaker is now under fire for comments he made on the house floor when proposing the theory’s elimination from the academic curriculum.
The term returned to the societal forefront in the final months of Donald Trump’s presidency, following 2020’s summer of racial unrest, when he cracked down on federal agencies with anti-racism training that included the theory. Calling it “divisive” and “anti-American propaganda.” Directing the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to issue a cease and desist on federal agencies that used taxpayer dollars to fund training.
“We don’t need to foment conflict in order for society to advance,” said Dr. Jeff Myers, president of Summit Ministries, which equips students with a biblical perspective.
Myers opposes critical race theory, calling it a Marxist worldview that not only teaches white students that they’re inherently racist, but also teaches Black students they’re inherently inferior.
“When you tell people everything is racist; everything is against you, it does tend to plant a seed in the minds of those in minority groups. That wow, somehow the external environment is too much; I can’t do anything with it,” Myers said. “I think what we need to teach our children is you have these resources of greatness that are inside of you. And we want to help those come out rather than teaching them your external circumstances are too overwhelming, and there’s nothing you can do.”
In Texas, legislation is advancing that opposes the theory and asks teachers to focus on “traditional history.” It is gaining support from Republican lawmakers who say they reject what they call “work philosophies.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.