Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a controversial bill into law Friday that will restrict how race and gender-based content can be taught in public schools and universities.
"Now more than ever, we need policies that bring us closer together – not rip us apart," the Republican governor said Friday. "I firmly believe that not one cent of taxpayer money should be used to define and divide young Oklahomans by their race or sex."
Bill 1775 passed through the state’s legislature with overwhelming support and prohibits the teaching that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another," and that "an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive."
The legislation has proven controversial. Supporters of the bill argue it prevents racial stereotypes. Opponents believe it will smother critical discussions about racism in society today.
But Stitt dismissed these concerns and argued that nothing in the legislation prevents educators from reviewing history through a critical lens.
The governor said it still endorses the Oklahoma Academic Standards curriculum, which covers topics like the Trail of Tears, the Oklahoma City lunch counter sit-ins led by Clara Luper, the Tulsa Race Massacre and the Oklahoma City bombing.
"To be sure, we must keep teaching history in all of its complexities and encourage honest and tough conversations about our painful past," Stitt said after he signed the legislation into law. "Nothing in this bill prevents or discourages those conversations."
The governor said this law will prevent young children from feeling guilt or shame and being cast as the "oppressor."
"During a time when we are already so polarized, we cannot revert to 100-year-old thinking: that a person is any less valuable or is inherently racist by the color of their skin," he continued. "I will not stand for publicly funded, K through 12 schools training impressionable minds to define themselves by their sex or their race."
Stitt is the first governor to sign legislation banning race and gender-based education into law.