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Walters calls for eliminating 'woke' library standards from Oklahoma schools

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State Superintendent Ryan Walters proposed new rules Wednesday to eliminate all references to long-held American Library Association guidelines in Oklahoma’s Information Literacy Standards.

In a press release, the ALA is characterized as “activist” and “left-wing,” with a statement from Walters calling the organization “taxpayer-funded, woke indoctrination.”

The current system, which is based on guidelines from the “Standards for the 21st Century Learner” created by the ALA’s American Association of School Librarians, focuses on four major areas:

  • 1. Inquire, think critically and gain knowledge.
  • 2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations and create new knowledge.
  • 3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
  • 4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth. 

The new system would be tiered by grade level. The department said in the release it focuses solely on skills, such as the inquiry process and incorporating AI.

In the release, Walters said the new standards would “more closely reflect Oklahoma values.”

“The ALA has repeatedly and unapologetically fought against filtering of internet pornography in libraries, fought to allow libraries across the country to bring in pornographic and inappropriate books, and attacked parents who just want libraries to protect children and reflect their communities,” Walters said in the release. “In Oklahoma schools, this will not continue.”

The move is not the first Walters has taken to exert more state influence over school library materials. During this spring’s legislative session, Walters sent lawmakers a list of nearly 200 books his office found offensive, many of which centered around LGBTQ+ themes.

The release did not cite specific instances of the ALA promoting pornography in schools. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and Public Policy Office offers advocacy consulting. The organization also keeps a running list of “adverse legislation” and provides resources such as a “state legislative toolkit.”

Asked to specify which of Oklahoma’s current standards Walters objected to or considered “activist” or “left-wing,” the department did not respond.

Oklahomans can submit comments during the 60-day public comment period, ending Jan. 17. To submit a comment, follow the instructions from the state department on this webpage.

The rules have to be approved by the State Board of Education and pass through the legislative process and governor’s desk before they are enacted.

The Oklahoma chapter of the ALA said in a statement to StateImpact it “fully support[s] the role of ALA’s values in the role of learning for Oklahoma’s students.”

“We look forward to reviewing the proposed standards and working collectively with Superintendent Walters and legislative leadership to ensure that our children have a world-class education,” the statement reads. “Our school librarians understand the rigorous process developing standards requires and stand ready to assist with the development of appropriate information literacy standards for Oklahoma that meet the needs of learners today and into the future.”

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Beth reports on education topics for StateImpact Oklahoma.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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