A growing group of Republican lawmakers in Ohio say they are concerned about and want to end the new way some schools are teaching history.
This is called Critical Race Theory, or CRT for short. It is an academic concept based on the idea that racism is more than an individual prejudice: it is a systemic problem that is ingrained in our legal system, our algorithms and our laws.
Supporters say the CRT teaches how racism has shaped public policy and life in America. Opponents, like the authors of Bill 322, call it a dangerous and divisive theory.
âIt’s designed to look at everything from a ‘race first’ perspective, which is the very definition of racism,â said Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, in a statement announcing the bill. âThe CRT claims fighting racism is laughable. Students should not be asked to ‘examine their whiteness’ or’ check their privilege. This anti-American doctrine has no place in Ohio schools. “
What is CRT?
KimberlÃ© Crenshaw, a critical race theorist and professor at UCLA and Columbia University, describes CRT as the understanding that people who are racially prejudiced (even unconscious) cannot create impartial systems and laws.
One example is how banks drew red lines around predominantly black neighborhoods to mark them as high risk for home loans in the 1930s. Or how Amazon and other companies working on recognition software facial expressions in 2019 created software that did not accurately recognize black faces.
âThat’s not to say that every white person is inherently bad or that every person is inherently racist,â said Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus. “This is not the critical theory of race.”
She sees it as a way to spark a conversation in Ohio classrooms about how racism manifests in unexpected places like home loans or algorithms or how kids are disciplined in school.
“We can’t fix it if we don’t even identify it and discuss how it has manifested itself in our history,” Crawley said. “But I understand that they want to be comfortable and not fix it.”
This is not how Jones and his fellow Republicans see the issue.
âIt’s a racist ideology that is being pushed into our schools,â said Aaron Baer, ââdirector of the Center for Christian Virtue. “There is a massive leap between CRT and respect and celebration of diversity.”
Baer, ââa longtime advocate for school choice, said he answered more phone calls and emails from parents concerned about CRT than any other issue in recent memory.
And it’s not just because former President Donald Trump ordered the Office of Management and Budget in September to cut funding for training federal employees on CRT, calling it a “propaganda effort.” .
âIf you don’t teach slavery in your American history classes, you are not a good teacher,â Baer said. “But you are also a bad teacher if you say that the color of a student’s skin means that they are forever oppressive and irremediable. This is at the heart of CRT.”
What Would Jones’ Bill Do?
It’s a feeling that runs across the country. States like Texas, Idaho, Tennessee, and Rhode Island have all introduced bills banning the teaching of CRT in public schools.
Here in Ohio, Jones’ Bill has 26 Republican co-sponsors. And Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland, is working on a similar bill.
If passed, HB 322 would prohibit schools from requiring teachers to use examples of current events or controversial ongoing issues in their classrooms. And schools could not demand lessons about current laws or groups lobbying for and against them.
But the heart of HB 322 is how racism would be taught. Teachers could not be required “to assert a belief in the systemic nature of racism, or similar ideas, or in the multiplicity or fluidity of gender identities, or similar ideas”.
The bill prohibits the State Board of Education, school boards and school districts from requiring teachers and staff to adopt the following beliefs:
â¢ âMeritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or have been created by members of a particular race or gender to oppress members of another race or gender. other sex â.
â¢ “An individual must experience discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or gender.”
â¢ âFault, blame or partiality should be attributed to a race or sex or to members of that race or sex by reason of their race or sex.â
â¢ âThe advent of slavery in what is now the United States was the true foundation of the United States.
â¢ That slavery and racism are more than deviations from true American values ââlike âfreedom and equalityâ.
“Republicans are very good at moral outrage and cultural warfare,” said Rep. Jeff Crossman of D-Parma. “They want to find issues that divide people along racial lines in order to distract them from bigger issues.”
The way he interprets Critical Race Theory is a way of understanding the world from someone else’s perspective.
âFor most of our history we’ve been telling one side of the story,â Crossman said. “And now we’ll hear the perspective from the other side.”
Is it really taught in Ohio schools?
It is difficult to answer the question of whether critical race theory is taught to children of Ohio.
Parents have gathered in school board meetings across the state and superintendents have sent out letters explaining what is and is not taught in their districts, but Ohio does not maintain a list of schools that teach what material.
The Ohio State Board of Education sets standards for how you should teach about Civil War, but it doesn’t dictate the books or materials that teachers use.
“We’re not promoting any curriculum,” Ohio Superintendent Paolo DeMaria told a House committee in February when asked about CRT and Project 1619 produced by The New York Times. “We respect the fact that, in the end, it is the professional judgment of educators that matters most.”
He said the state council does not “promote any study program.”
This is not enough for people like Baer who want the board to take a stand against CRT.
“This is one more reason why we are pushing the backpack bill [universal vouchers]”Baer said.” I bet school boards will be a lot more responsive if parents say, ‘I don’t like what you teach. I take my children and I take their money with them. ‘”
Concerns on the ground of local councils
At a Stow-Munroe Falls school board meeting on Monday, Iisha Collier, chair of the diversity equity and inclusion committee, provided an update on the group’s progress this year and noted that some members of the community have expressed concerns about critical race theory.
âIn our DCI work, it is not our intention to introduce the CRT to students or to align the program with the CRT,â said Collier, who is also the K-6 program supervisor of the K-6 program. district. âWe use ODE [Ohio Department of Education] standards when harmonizing our program. We are educators in the classroom, not advocates for specific concepts. “
Still, board member Gerry Bettio responded that critical breed theory was about her, even though she wasn’t coming to Stow-Munroe Falls.
âOthers adopt it and I’m afraid of it. I don’t want this to happen here, âshe said.
Board member Nancy Brown, who is part of the committee’s general assembly, said she had never heard the phrase “critical breed theory” mentioned in any of their meetings.
âFortunately Ms Collier made it clear that this was not the intention of the Stow Schools,â she told Bettio.
On Monday evening, about 20 people spoke to the Hudson School District School Board about the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiative. About two-thirds said they opposed the way their children were taught notions of race and racism.
While District Superintendent Phil Herman said critical breed theory was not part of the curriculum, some parents argued that the components of CRT were taught to their children as part of the DCI program and shared their objections.
Mark Justice said he felt DCI’s efforts in the district were “just a rebranding of CRT.”
He noted that after reading a book about race at school, his daughter “saw the color of her skin when she had never recognized it before”.
Justice said he believes the teachings divide people by skin color and emphasize the differences between people rather than the similarities.
âDCI or CRT or whatever you want to call it, is nothing less than a subtle reinstatement of segregation in our schools,â Justice said.
Some speakers said they believed education “poisoned” the minds of their children and “indoctrinated” them.
âMy child doesn’t see the breed,â said Robin Meeker. ââ¦ Now my child notices the color of his skin. I have the feeling that school creates racism in my children.
Brian Meeker urged council to pass a resolution banning CRT teaching in the district.
About a third of the speakers applauded DCI’s efforts.
Lisa Radigan said she was in favor of instruction, saying, âWe can’t just say, ‘I can’t see the color’ and end the conversationâ¦ we have to have tough conversations with ourselves. . ”
Michelle Ciancio said she believed the DCI initiative was about empowering people âto empathize with everyone and respect everyoneâ.
Herman said DCI talks are about making all students feel valued and welcomed in school buildings, and are aimed at preparing them for the world they will live in as adults.
The Hudson board did not have an agenda item for DEI or CRT.
Journalists Krista Kano and Phil Keren contributed to this article.