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Right-wing pundits, out-of-state advocates to help create Oklahoma social studies standards

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Right-wing pundits, out-of-state advocates to help create Oklahoma social studies standards

Jul 09, 2024 | 5:22 pm ET
By Nuria Martinez-Keel
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Right-wing pundits, out-of-state advocates to help create Oklahoma social studies standards
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Backpacks fill cubbies at Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa on April 8. Oklahoma academic standards for K-12 social studies will be under review in 2025. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — National conservative media personalities and right-wing policy advocates will develop Oklahoma’s academic standards for social studies, the state’s top education official announced on Tuesday.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters said his goal is to overhaul the existing social studies standards and emphasize American exceptionalism. He said the new standards also will eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion, though he gave no explanation of what specifically would be removed.

“Oklahomans — citizens, parents, and business leaders alike — are disgusted with the lack of civic knowledge, love for our country, and historical education among our young people,” Walters said in the announcement. “It is crystal clear that we need to return to more rigorous social studies standards that emphasize the unique and exceptional nature of the American republic, promote a proper understanding of the nation’s founding, and instill pride in our civic traditions and Oklahoma heritage.”

Academic standards are a lengthy list of topics and concepts Oklahoma schools are required to teach. They are developed on a six-year cycle, and social studies is up for review in 2025.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education gathers subject-matter experts and educators in review committees to update the standards for each subject. The Oklahoma State Board of Education and the state Legislature must approve the final version.

Walters chose nationally recognizable names for the review committee, like radio host and PragerU founder Dennis Prager, conservative talk show host Steve Deace and Kevin Roberts, the president of The Heritage Foundation, a national Republican think tank.

Only a few of the committee members Walters identified have lived in Oklahoma — author and journalist John Dwyer and former Oklahoma Wesleyan University President Everett Piper, who is now a Fox News contributor.

Another committee member, Texas resident David Barton, attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. Barton is the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization and media outlet focused on Christian education.

More than 75 Oklahomans, most of whom are public school teachers, are involved in updating the academic standards, Walters said. He did not name any of the local educators.

“I am very excited to have enlisted some of the brightest minds available to serve on our Executive Review Committee,” Walters said. “Their unparalleled expertise will help craft new academic standards that will serve as a model for the nation and help Oklahoma students for years to come.”

Right-wing pundits, out-of-state advocates to help create Oklahoma social studies standards
House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa, left, speak at a May 29 news conference opposing state Superintendent Ryan Walters. (Photo by Nuria Martinez-Keel/Oklahoma Voice)

House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, called the group of out-of-state advisers “extremist Republicans who are seeking to strip Oklahomans of their right to freedom of religion and a well-rounded, public education.”

Munson said the changes Walters promised could drive even more educators out of the classroom in a state already suffering from a teacher shortage.

“It is a continued attack on Oklahomans and another attempt at erasing the valuable programs that are actively benefiting Oklahoma’s students and the future of our state,” she said.

Tulsa Democrat Rep. John Waldron, a former social studies teacher, said Walters’ announcement represents a “dangerous politicization of our academic process.”

It’s not the first time the state superintendent enlisted a far-right-wing voice from out of state to advise him. Walters named Chaya Raichik, who runs the social media account Libs of TikTok, to a Library Media Review Committee.

The state Education Department has refused to identify any other members of the Library Media Review Committee, despite the panel’s attempt to have bestsellers “The Glass Castle” and “The Kite Runner” removed from an Oklahoma high school.

Tuesday’s announcement is yet another conservative push from Walters’ administration, following his recent order that all public schools in Oklahoma incorporate the Bible in their history teaching. Last year, he encouraged public schools to use “pro-America kids content” from PragerU.