Read all the directions. Teachers used to say this before every test. Read all the directions. Following them was implied. Those who went directly to the first question often made mistakes. Sometimes extra credit was hidden in the directions. Unfortunately, Oklahoma teachers and school districts seem to be having trouble with both sides of that equation: reading and following directions.

For example, at a school board meeting on June 7, Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Sean McDaniel talked about the impacts of SB658 on the district’s plans to continue mandating masks in schools beyond July 1. While Dr. McDaniel correctly pointed out that part of the bill requires the school board to put the issue of mask mandates on its agenda at every regular board meeting until they repeal it, he glosses over the fact that the relevant jurisdiction must be “under a current state of emergency declared by the Governor.” Neither Oklahoma County nor any other part of the state is currently under a Covid-related state of emergency.

Putting the mandate on the school board’s agenda, consulting with the local health department, and explicitly listing the purposes of the mandate are all necessary conditions for continuing a mandate. But are not sufficient. Those are all requirements for having a mask mandate, but there is another requirement that is beyond the control of the superintendent: there must be an emergency order in place. Currently there is not. Superintendent McDaniel fell into one of the classic blunders: he failed to read all the directions.

When it comes to HB1775, educators seem to have asked an unreliable friend to describe the directions. Based on the unreliable friend’s abysmal summary, they are loudly announcing their intent not to follow. Numerous statements on Twitter, some by self-identified teachers, show a profound misunderstanding of the law’s directives.

1889 has already dispelled the myths surrounding HB1775, but for those who need to hear the directions more than once, here’s a quick summary. You can’t force students to listen to nonsense that says they are inherently bad because they are a certain race. You can’t discourage students from treating people of every race equally. That’s it. Every requirement of the law falls into one of those two categories. There is nothing in the law that prevents teaching about the Jim Crow South, the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Trail of Tears, or any of the other atrocities perpetrated by whites on other races. There is nothing in the law that has any bearing on teaching historical facts. Where the law comes into play is drawing the conclusion that because white people 100 years ago or more did these things, white people today are necessarily responsible for – or predisposed to – committing the same sorts of atrocities.

As one colleague succinctly put it, schools can teach about the horrors of the KKK. Schools cannot teach like the KKK. I would add that they also cannot teach like an equal and opposite KKK. Students of every race deserve the opportunity to forge their own path, free of racial baggage. While that may still be a dream, the solution is not to burden them with more of it at the schools they are required to attend.

Teachers are right when they say that every student ought to feel they have a place in our schools. If some don’t, we need to fix that. But the fix isn’t to make others feel as if they don’t. That’s a little like lighting a fire in your back yard because you don’t want your front yard to feel bad that it’s on fire. Perhaps you should try to put the fire out instead.

Following directions is one key to success on exams. It’s the key to success in getting along in the classroom. It also has applications well beyond the classroom. Baking, electrical wiring, and skydiving lessons are all situations where we want people to have a foundation in following directions. It’s also important in jobs and on public roads. Let’s hope our educators can set a better example for our future adults.

Mike Davis is Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at [email protected].

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.