Students, educators fight against bill that would prohibit teaching ‘controversial’ topics
An instructor assists a student during a classroom discussion. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
The following article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
Students and educators across Ohio rallied Wednesday against the controversial house bill that would ban the teaching of “controversial” topics. Protests at the University of Akron, Kent State University and inside the Statehouse focused on truth, combating censorship and putting education above political gain.
The bill has changed significantly from public outcry on the vagueness of what is a “divisive concept,” with some citing that under the bill — slavery, the Holocaust and LGBTQ+ literature — could be seen as offensive. The bill removed the term divisive concepts and is now moving forward with the removal of “promoting certain concepts.” In the original language of the bill, it stated that one could not teach that the United States was inherently racist, or had racist beginnings.
The bill originally just focused on K-12, but has now advanced to any “stage agency.” That includes a state institution of higher education and places responsibilities for a state institution’s compliance on the Department of Administrative Services. The “state institution of higher education” means the 13 state universities and their regional campuses, the Northeast Ohio Medical University, each community college, state community college or technical college. Later, the bill removed state institutions of higher education from the definition of state agency and instead places responsibilities for monitoring compliance by state institutions of higher education on the Department of Higher Education.
Students at the colleges held up signs with the names and photos of historical figures and events that could be censored from being taught if House Bill 327 passes. One junior, Emily Hill, grabbed the megaphone to speak about how learning can’t happen if lawmakers make educators avoid the truth.
“It would completely gut my education,” Hill told News 5. “I’m a history major, so it would completely decimate my education.”
Hill’s teachers are worried too, she said.
“It would keep them from teaching history; we would have a whitewashed false version of history trying to be taught in a college-level education center,” she said. “It’s really terrifying.”
Teachers did speak out against it, as well.
Honesty for Ohio Education is a new nonpartisan statewide coalition that fights for every student to get the same level of schooling. The coalition is made up of more than 30 organizations.
About a dozen community leaders from nonpartisan organizations headed to the capital to rally against it with their supporters. The Ohio Education Association President Scott DiMauro wants the legislators to leave the education to the people that actually know it.
“Educational decisions need to be left to educators, and we all need to work hard to make sure that we’re doing all we can to serve the needs of our students, to give our students what they need in terms of the resources to be successful — rather than tying the hands of educators, rather than censoring people, limiting academic freedom in a way that’s really going to be a detriment to our students and to our state,” DiMauro said. “Fundamentally, it’s a censorship bill that would limit our ability as educators to teach our students a full, honest, truthful education.”
He is taking this seriously, not just as the leader of more than 121,000 teachers, faculty members and support staff that are represented by the Ohio Education Association, but as an educator himself. He has taught high school Social Studies and has worked in the profession for more than three decades.
“The reality is that throughout our history, we have periods of time where there have been great progress, but that progress has always followed times of struggle and struggle comes through injustice, struggle comes through some of the darker chapters of our history,” he said. “If we don’t learn from all of our history, you know, the good, the bad, the ugly, then how can we possibly be expected to make progress as a society?
He joined at least 10 other speakers to urge the House to strike down the bill. The other speakers were from Honesty for Ohio Education, NAACP Ohio, YWCA Columbus, Columbus Education Association, Equality Ohio, Ohio Council of Churches, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, ACLU Ohio and numerous high school student leaders and teachers.
Democrat legislators swung by to peak in the room. In a previous News 5 story, Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) shared that when people are forced to back away from the reality of what atrocities like the Holocaust were, dangerous things could happen.
“I am very, very wary of ceding any of that power to the state to be able to come in and censor and determine what is the right concept and what isn’t,” Weinstein said. “This was something that I really feared when we started talking about banning divisive concepts or banning books — that we would start to shy away from real history, challenging history, ultimately issues that we have to grapple with, like the Holocaust.
But at least 36 House members disagree. The bill is sponsored by Reps. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) and Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula), but Rep. Tom Young (R-Washington Twp.) has cosponsored it.
“First of all, it’s House Bill 327, not the “divisive concepts” bill,” Young said. “What it does is align the Ohio Revised Code to the federal Civil Rights Act, so there is no compelling movement to discriminate against students.”
The majority of Republican legislators News 5 spoke to Wednesday would not go on camera, but Young added that the bill is to make sure no one is discriminating against anyone, which he and the others believe is taught when learning critical race theory.
In a previous story, Rep. Fowler Arthur told News 5 that her intent is to affirm the value and importance for all Ohioans, while protecting the individual student’s right to think, act and speak without being compelled to adopt the professor or instructor’s personal viewpoint.
“We want them to not shy away from historically difficult topics or topics that make people feel uncomfortable,” the representative said. “But at the same time, they need not compel students to speak or act from the bias that they are inferior.”
Most of the testimony in favor of the bill comes from parents and organizations such as Ohio Value Voters. OVV told News 5 that learning about certain historical events, like slavery, can make white children feel guilty and ashamed. Critical race theory, which has not nor has ever been taught in Ohio K-12, is racist and shouldn’t be taught, their spokesperson added. A representative for the Rocky River Citizens for Transparency said she believes her children are being taught that white is now equivalent to oppressor and racist.
“If we don’t learn from history, we’ll be bound to repeat it,” Hill, the Akron student said. “If we’re not aware of things that happened in the past, like social issues, political issues, we’re just going to fall into those holes over and over again.
“We’re not going to make any progress forward for future generations, and I think it’s kind of our responsibility to make sure that they have a better United States to grow up in.”
Now, the College Board just addressed the issue. They will no longer provide AP credit to students in Ohio if HB327 passes. Their statement:
If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities. For example, the concepts of evolution are at the heart of college biology, and a course that neglects such concepts does not pass muster as AP Biology.
The bill has had five hearings in the House State and Local Government Committee. The next hearing should be taking a vote, a source close to the matter said.
Along with the three mentioned earlier, the bill is cosponsored by Reps. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison), Thomas E. Brinkman Jr. (R-27th District), Jamie Callender (R-Concord), Sara P. Carruthers (R-Hamilton), Gary Click (R-Vickery), Rodney Creech (R-West Alexandria), Jon Cross (R-Kenton), Al Cutrona (R-Canfield), Bill Dean (R-Xenia), Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville), Ron Ferguson (R-Jefferson, Monroe and Belmont), Timothy E. Ginter (R- Columbiana County), Jennifer Gross (R-West Chester), Adam Holmes (R-Nashport), Marilyn S. John (R-Richland County), Mark Johnson (R-Chillicothe), Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander), Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville), Mike Loychik (R-Bazetta), Riordan T. McClain (R-Upper Sandusky), Derek Merrin (R-Monclova), Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), Jena Powell (R-Arcanum), Tracy M. Richardson (R-Marysville), Craig S. Riedel (R-Defiance), Jean Schmidt (R-Loveland), Dick Stein (R-Norwalk), Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill), Reggie Stoltzfus (R-Paris Twp.), A. Nino Vitale (R-Urbana), Scott Wiggam (R-Wayne County), Bob Young (R-Green) and Paul Zeltwanger (R-Mason).
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