Parents packed a school board meeting near Cleveland. They flooded the Ohio State Board of Education with comments. They launched the first campaigns for board seats in a Cincinnati suburb. And they lobbied state lawmakers to write not one but two separate bills to ban the teaching of “critical race theory.”
âIt didn’t feel right to me. It didn’t seem like something kids should learn,â said Ben James, a parent from Columbus. “Telling someone that you need to feel bad for being the shadow that you are is bad, man. It’s so bad.”
It’s not yet in his son’s school, but districts from Cleveland to Cincinnati have adopted âanti-racistâ policies following the murder of George Floyd to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
James, who is black, thinks these “buzzwords” are the code for critical race theory, which he says is a confrontational and damaging narrative that has no place in schools across the world. Ohio.
âIt tries to get kids at an early age to divide from a young age,â James said. “If we teach that to elementary school kids now, by the time they get to high school, we’ll be back to segregation.”
Supporters are divided over whether what they teach falls within the framework of Critical Race Theory, or CRT. Lawyers who study the theory are pretty sure not.
For them, the transformation of the CRT into a conservative war cry is either a misunderstanding or a blatant attempt to abuse all diversity efforts to increase fears about indoctrination and dismantle public schools.
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory is an area of ââacademic study like philosophy, sociology or economics, said Vince Jungkunz, a professor at Ohio University.
âIt didn’t reside in any pronounced way in (K-12) schools until Republican lawmakers started talking about it,â Jungkunz said.
Jungkunz, who has been teaching CRT since 2004, described it as a way to understand how racism has shaped life in America, using examples from his personal life. Jungkunz, who is white, met his ex-wife, who is black, in the late 1980s.
âWe started to notice almost like this sociological difference,â Jungkunz said. “I would be treated completely differently than she would be treated.”
The hotel employees would tell him that there were no rooms available, but he would be offered a key. Sometimes there would be a vacancy, but her rate would be higher than hers.
âThe hotels, the rental car rates, the teacher reviews that mentioned the texture of her hair. That’s how I knew the white privilege was real,â he said.
The civil rights movement purged “blatant racism” from the law, he said, but it did not purge the beliefs that created “separate but equal” systems. This is the object of critical race theory.
For example, a few years ago, large tech companies marketed their facial recognition software to law enforcement agencies around the world until researchers at Stanford and MIT discovered that error rates for people of color in general – and black women in particular – are alarmingly higher than their white male counterparts. .
A test of Amazon’s “Rekognition” software incorrectly identified 28 members of Congress as criminals, including the late civil rights legend, US Representative John Lewis.
Critical Race Theory, Jungkunz said, would require coders to go beyond repairing software and find out why their programs had these biases to begin with.
Hide racism in diversity
This all sounds good, said Aaron Baer, ââdirector of the Center for Christian Virtue. But that is not what is being pushed in schools.
âAnyone I know who opposes the CRT, we would all agree to have more diverse views,â Baer said. “Let’s not be afraid to engage with these ideas, but there is a huge step forward between CRT and respecting and celebrating diversity.”
He sees a borderline racist ideology that teaches children “that there is a certain group of people who are hopelessly bad and horrible because of the color of their skin.”
And Representative Don Jones, R-Freeport, sees the CRT as a worldview that runs counter to the American Dream and claims that meritocracy was created to oppress people of color.
“It’s really based on Marxism, and the fact that we should make those who are successful feel like they have been privileged,” Jones said. “I think this is an important thing to achieve. We are looking for equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.”
Controversy over the 1619 project
What brought critical race theory out of academic obscurity was a collection of essays, poems, and commentaries compiled by The New York Times in a Pulitzer Prize-winning initiative called Project 1619.
Named for the year Africans first landed on American soil, the project attempted to reframe U.S. history with a focus on slavery and the contributions of black Americans.
Former President Donald Trump called the project “toxic propaganda” and “an ideological poison which, if not removed, will dissolve the civic ties that unite us.”
He denigrated school districts that began to incorporate the project into their history lessons, and he convened his own “1776 Commission” to draft a “patriotic” curriculum for use by schools. President Joe Biden dismantled the commission on his first day in office.
In April, the US Department of Education released a proposal for federal grants for schools that incorporate diverse perspectives into their history classes and used Project 1619 as an example.
In June, lawmakers in 16 states introduced or passed bills banning his teaching.
What’s going on in Ohio
In July 2020, the Ohio State Board of Education passed a resolution condemning racism. The three-page document recognized the achievement gap between white college students and colored children and promised that Ohio would do better.
The resolution called on the Department of Education to provide training on implicit bias and “strongly recommended (ed) that all school districts in Ohio begin internal reflection and review on their own.”
Some districts, like Cincinnati’s public schools, have taken the idea to heart. Its board approved an anti-racism policy in December, which included a commitment to develop new anti-racist lesson plans for students of all grade levels.
Board member Mike Moroski said they had not experienced any setbacks from the community and did not expect to see a bunch of angry parents once the new program becomes official .
Some teachers are already incorporating diversity lessons into their teaching.
âYes, that probably comes a lot like what you would consider critical race theory,â said Trent White, a social studies teacher at Aiken High School in Cincinnati. “To be very critical of the idea that many legal foundations in this country were founded to help whites prosper and that they did not think of African Americans or that some were intentionally inflicted (on blacks). ). ”
White said he adapted his teaching for his students, many of whom see the history of the United States through the prism of the black experience.
That’s not to say that he teaches children that all white people throughout history were racist. Its purpose is not to teach students to hate America. But he also doesn’t give children a “rosy, autobiographical version” of the nation’s history.
It also incorporates local issues such as redlining, which was a way for banks to mark predominantly black neighborhoods on maps in order to deny them loans and other financial services.
White wants his students “to understand that you can criticize America without hating America.”
Local control or local protection?
In the Hudson City School District, where 85 percent of students are white, parents have aligned themselves against the way its schools teach diversity.
The school board said in a statement it does not teach Critical Race Theory or Project 1619. But parents told News 5 Cleveland they viewed the lessons on white privilege as indoctrination.
That’s why we have local control, said Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus. “School districts should be able to allow teachers to teach whatever they deem necessary for this subject.”
Ohio has over 600 school districts. What works in one may not work in the other, she said. But House Bill 322 would reduce that academic freedom.
It would not explicitly ban Project 1619, but it would ban any lesson claiming that “the advent of slavery in what is now the United States was the true foundation of the United States.”
And that would prohibit teaching slavery and racism as “anything other than deviations from true American values ââlike” freedom and equality. ”
A district could lose funding if it taught in a way that caused a student to “experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress due to race or gender.” of the individual â.
House Bill 327, sponsored by Republican Representatives Diane Grendell and Sarah Fowler Arthur, goes even further. It includes bans on higher education and mandatory training for state employees on what the bill calls âconcepts of divisionâ.
âWhen teaching something that divides, it’s important to make sure it’s as comprehensive as possible,â said Fowler Arthur.
His bill does not prohibit the teaching of controversial subjects. It simply requires that they be taught in an âobjective mannerâ that presents âa full view of the storyâ. CRT, in his opinion, “teaches a narrative view of history.”
Ohio lawmakers must step in here, Fowler Arthur said, to prevent teachers and other state employees from being forced into these ideas just to keep their jobs.
The two bills also attempt to prohibit federal intrusion on this subject. The federal government could “force” districts to choose critical racial theory programs with federal funds, Fowler Arthur said, as they did with core standards.
âThey instigated it through a grant process directly to local school districts,â she said. âA majority of districts did not want to participate voluntarily, but eventually everyone was forced to comply. ”