Oklahoma state Sen. Shane Jett is pushing his state to join a growing movement to ban critical race theory from public school curriculums, which he says poisons children’s minds with racist views and pits Americans against each other.
“I’m opposed to child abuse,” he said to explain his quest to stop the new trend in racial education, which teaches that the legal and governance systems in the U.S. are inherently racist and retain economic and political power for White people by oppressing people of color.
Mr. Jett introduced a bill that would ban the curriculums from public and charter K-12 schools in Oklahoma. He joins lawmakers in at least three other states trying to get rid of an educational philosophy they say instills divisiveness and rancor.
Mr. Jett said critical race theory already took hold at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, which he calls “the Democratic People’s Republic of Norman.” His office is investigating a handful of K-12 schools where the left-wing philosophy is being taught or incorporated in online classroom materials.
“It’s called Marxist indoctrination,” he said. “A respectful dialogue on race? I’m all about that. The race riot that happened in Tulsa in 1921 — they should teach that every year. But critical race theory says, ‘If you’re White you are racist and you don’t even know it — let’s rehab you.’”
Proponents of critical race theory insist the material fosters a more inclusive environment for Black students and students of color.
No one could accuse Mr. Jett of opposition to a multicultural approach to life. Mr. Jett is a Cherokee American. He’s married to a Brazilian public school teacher. Their three daughters are trilingual and lived in several countries where Mr. Jett was stationed when he was an officer in the Navy. Like their father, the daughters are members of the Cherokee Nation.
That background has cut both ways with fellow legislators on the bill, he said.
“They say, ‘I’m not hearing that bill because they’ll call me a racist, but you can get away with it because you’re Cherokee,’” he said. “But I’m not playing that card.”
Mr. Jett hopes to get the bill before the state Senate’s Education Committee this week. He also supports another bill moving through the Senate that would outlaw critical race theory workshops and materials at all state-funded agencies.
The Oklahoma bills come as critical race theory and the fight against it have become increasingly prominent.
Chinese American parents recently protested critical race theory being taught in New York City schools, and schools in Buffalo also suffered criticism for teaching the anti-White viewpoint.
The principal at East Side Community School in New York City sent home a “White identity” chart to parents of White students that asked them to reflect on their Whiteness and rank themselves among eight slots on a chart that ran from “White supremacist” to “White abolitionist.”
The designer of the chart, Northwestern University professor Barnor Hesse, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did East Side Community School Principal Mark Federman.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Nevada cleared the way for an April trial in a case involving Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus. There, a son of mixed-race parents and his Black mother objected to classes during which students were divided by gender and race, with Whites labeled “oppressors.”
“We see it as a big win. The judge opened the path forward for a trial on the merits,” said Jonathan O’Brien, an attorney with Schoolhouserights.org representing the plaintiff Clark family in the Nevada lawsuit.
Mr. O’Brien said he preferred a jury trial because the material used in critical race theory will offend the jurors.
“We think to the common American this exotic race theory is offensive to common sense and common decency, so I think we’re more comfortable talking to a jury of our peers,” he said, promising an “aggressive discovery schedule.”
The charter school, owned by a Park Avenue corporation called Democracy Prep, is represented by what Mr. O’Brien called “a phalanx” of white-shoe law firms such as Wilmer Hale. Democracy Prep has declined to comment on the litigation.
“There’s definitely a campaign on different fronts, and there are the state legislatures,” Mr. O’Brien said.
Mr. Jett said the core of the issue is that critical race theory is itself racist, and opponents have to make the public aware of the theory’s Marxist framework and background, as well as its divisive impact.
“The ideology comes from Karl Marx, and they are always trying to find local talent to preach the ideology,” he said. “But if you expect to get a correct answer mathematically with critical race theory, you’re a racist; if you’re White, you’re a racist.”
Mr. Jett said he is prepared for a long fight and vowed to keep pushing the bill even if it doesn’t pass before the current legislative session ends in May.
“We are gearing up to combat it,” he said. “This may be a multiyear effort, but we’re committed to protecting our children from abusive ideologies,” he said. “Who would be interested in exacerbating race relations in the United States so there would be upheaval and unrest? Who would be interested in graduating [into] a racially charged, at each other’s throats, social divide?”