A Sequoyah County lawmaker has filed a bill that would outlaw the teaching that America was unique in its use of slavery and takes aim at a New York Times' project that sought to highlight the role slavery played in America’s founding.
House Bill 2988, authored by Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, would prevent the teaching that one race is the unique oppressor in the institution of slavery, that another race is the unique victim in the institution of slavery, or that America had slavery more extensively and for a later period of time than other nations.
“It is important that it be taught that we had slavery as a nation and it was evil, but it would not be proper to teach it that we were the only ones that had it,” Olsen said during a Wednesday interview. “It is the agenda of the far left, they want our young people to hate America.”
The bill also would outlaw the use of the 1619 Project, which is a series produced by The New York Times Magazine that argued there is not enough understanding on how slavery shaped the nation and how it continues to impact society today. Spearheaded by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, the series drew scorn from some conservatives who believed it detracted from American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is better than other nations.
Is math education racist? Debate rages over changes to how US teaches the subject
In a response on Twitter, Jones said Olsen’s bill was “opposed to truth.”
1619 is considered by many historians to be the start of the American slave trade when Africans were brought against their will to the colonies in the Americas for free labor.
Olsen said he had not reviewed the state’s curriculum standards to determine whether his bill was necessary.
“My basic intention is to be proactive,” Olsen said.
The state’s curriculum standards reference the teaching of slavery dozens of times, including an objective for students to “Describe the institution of slavery around the world prior to the 15th century as a widespread result of warfare and economic practices.” The same academic standard also teaches that slavery has been used as more than just a race-based institution, but that “its origins were usually a by-product of warfare and economics.”
In fifth grade, state standards also teach that “Europeans benefited greatly from the slave trade and the export of raw materials along what is known as the triangular trade route. Students should also understand the hardships, loss of life, and dehumanizing experiences involved in the transportation of enslaved persons to the colonies.”
The majority of proposed bills fail to be passed or even receive a committee hearing, and it's too early to tell what the appetite of legislative leaders might be to hear Olsen's proposal.
But Olsen's bill follows a successful effort last year to outlaw the teaching that one race is superior to another, House Bill 1775, that many related to the ongoing culture war over critical race theory, the academic concept that racism is engrained in some systems, such as housing and criminal justice.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, who is also the vice chair of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, called Olsen's bill an effort to erase history.
"Whether it's the Holocaust, 9/11, or Sandy Hook there have always been these deniers trying to make these historical events not sound as bad," Nichols said.
This story is provided in part through a grant by the Kirkpatrick Foundation. To support work like this, please consider purchasing a digital subscription today at https://cm.oklahoman.com/specialoffer/.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Proposed bill targets the teaching of slavery in Oklahoma classrooms