A newly proposed bill in Oklahoma from State Senator Rob Standridge would punish any public school teacher who promotes any position “in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.” Which — let’s face it — means the bill would punish any public school teacher.
Senate Bill 1470 was prefiled this week by Standridge, a MAGA cultist who made news last month when he filed a different bill to ban all books with sexual content (especially ones that affirm trans identities) from public school libraries. On Monday, he posted on Facebook about his desire to ban Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from schools because it contains a rape scene.
But it’s the more recent bill that’s gotten plenty of attention online because it allows students and parents with irrational religious views to override the curriculum decisions of trained professionals.
A biology teacher who explains evolution could be ratted out by a Creationist who’s failing science class. A health teacher who educates students about different forms of birth control won’t be in that classroom for very long if an abstinence-promoting teenager is on the roster. A history teacher who correctly describes the Founding Fathers as a mix of religious and non-religious individuals could be a target of conservative evangelicals who believe Christian pseudo-historian David Barton’s lies. An English teacher who wants to challenge kids with controversial thought-provoking literature would be forced to stick to only the blandest books.
Give it time and the students would find reason to oppose math, too. The bill is vague enough to give them that leeway.
The bill would punish teachers by fining them $10,000 “per incident, per individual.” Want to raise the money via GoFundMe? Not an option. The bill says the fines must be paid “from personal resources” and offenders can’t get assistance from individuals or groups. If they catch you fundraising, the bill says you’ll be fired with no ability to go back into a public school classroom for five years.
All of this comes from Standridge, a member of Crosspointe Church in Norman, who has ironically railed against “cancel culture” and “censorship.” Like so many white evangelical Christians, he’s an expert in hypocrisy and an advocate for ignorance. He wants to make students in Oklahoma as dumb as the people he routinely surrounds himself with, while creating an obstacle for them to get accepted into better universities after they graduate. Why would any school want to admit a student who failed to get a proper high school education?
I have no clue if this bill will pass, but the story is that a legislator decided to file this bill at all. It seems safe to assume the overarching goal here is to simply scare good teachers out of the profession. Why subject yourself to the anti-educational whims of white evangelicals when you can find a better paying job outside the schools?
This is what conservatives want, though. They’ll do everything in their power to hurt public schools, make teachers’ lives miserable, and prevent kids from getting a comprehensive education. It’s not enough that private Christian schools exist; lawmakers like Standridge want to make public schools all but useless. Why educate students if that education makes them aware of how incompetent their elected officials are? Better to keep them in the dark by allowing the worst kinds of religious fundamentalists to control the classroom.
While it’s theoretically possible for Muslims, Satanists, and atheists to use this bill to challenge right-wing agendas in the classroom, there’s no secret about who this bill is written for: It’s a gift to conservative Christians who can’t accept that their faith doesn’t mesh with reality. They’d rather be blissfully ignorant than grapple with any kind of nuance.