Ohio Republican education assaults are a travesty, wrapped in unthinking, immature, petty grievance

Attacks on freedom of thought and expression are hallmarks of authoritarian regimes throughout history

May 25, 2023 4:30 am

COLUMBUS, OH — FEBRUARY 08: State Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, during the Ohio Senate session, February 8, 2023, in the Senate Chamber at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Ohio boasts cherished, prestigious academic institutions that we rightly take enormous pride in, but now Ohio Republican lawmakers have their culture war sights set on destroying all of it, out of unthinking, immature, petty personal grievance and power politics.

For many years, right-wingers have seethed resentfully at the whole bulk of American academia — many of the most proven and accomplished higher education institutions in the history of the world — because they haven’t seen their personal political ideologies reflected in them enough.

Of course, Republicans are already represented in students and faculty at every single university, but now, instead of simply trying to intellectually engage in these communities on the grounds of good and honest arguments, like everything else, they want to rig the game in their favor, while screaming like babies that they are the real victims.

Institutions of higher education are driven by fact, data, empirical evidence, science, math, social and historical context, and the broader ideal of classical education: That instruction is not about telling people what to think; it’s teaching them how to think well — to become lifelong learners — ever-curious, ever-growing, ever-striving to understand our history, our world, and ourselves better and more fully.

A college student voter. Getty Images.
A college student voter. Getty Images.

The whole concept is best embodied to me in Plato’s “Apology,” where Socrates seeks out the wisest in the land, and having met them, concludes that he is better off, because they think they know, whereas he knows how much he does not know.

We can never know or seek to understand enough. Thus, true education requires constant free exploration of thought, open dissent, exposure to knowledge new and old, full and contextualized information, a hearing of all voices, consideration and evidence-based vetting of alternative possibilities, the push and pull of honest debate and challenge, and a serious appreciation for the gravity of broad scientific and expert consensus.

Over the last eight years, the Trumpist Republican Party has abandoned all of that — facts, data, empirical evidence, science, history, and even the fundamental ideals of Western liberal democracy and classical education — to embrace lies, fear, hate, division, pseudoscience, crankery, dogma, and authoritarian, fanatical extremism.

Now, just like every other authoritarian regime in history, they are seeking to destroy institutions of academia and higher learning that represent fundamental values of human civilization that transcend and contradict their toxic blind obedience to extremist ideology and power above everything else.

Their efforts erect barriers to cripple the ability of American institutions to educate citizens about the dire historical dangers of exactly the type of authoritarian programs they are working to implement.

They aim to install a dumbed-down, nationalist, ahistorical version of history to be mandated for indoctrination into Ohio’s K-12 students as well as on our college campuses. They also aim to destroy the effective power of college faculty to collectively bargain by removing any threat of strike.

They intend to do this — as authoritarian regimes always do — by creating confusion and a chilling effect, instilling fear among college faculty that if they run afoul of the regime’s “bias” litmus tests, they may lose tenure, be fired, have their families and lives thrown into chaos.

The faculties overall will have no real weapon in collective bargaining to stop any of it, as they would be forced to labor despite deteriorating employment situations.

As the faculty of Miami University noted when they recently voted to unionize, “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.” These attacks on faculty will only deaden the education experience being offered to Ohio college students.

This is why perhaps an Ohio Statehouse record of more than 500 people submitted opponent testimony against Kirtland Republican Jerry Cirino’s Senate Bill 83, which would, among other things, require American history courses and tenure evaluations based on if the educator showed bias or taught with bias, whatever that extraordinarily precarious and subjective measurement is supposed to mean. They aren’t combatting bias; they are imposing their own biases on the institutions of Ohio academia.

Ohio’s Orwellian-named “Higher Education Enhancement Act” seeks to police classroom speech on what it calls the “controversial matters” of climate science, abortion, immigration, diversity, equity, inclusion, and others. Yes. The concept of “inclusion” is controversial to them, which is, of course, insane and sociopathic.

More than 100 people came to the Statehouse to speak against it. Only five educators appeared at the Statehouse to support the attack.

Republican state Rep. Josh Williams, of Oregon. Official photo.

Nevertheless, it’s now been passed in the Ohio Senate, and the Ohio House is considering its companion bill, House Bill 151, introduced by state Rep. Steve Demetriou, R-Bainbridge Twp., and Josh Williams, R-Oregon.

Republican state Rep. Steve Demetriou, of Bainbridge Twp. Official photo.

When Ohio college students, professors, staff, administrators, Trustees, and virtually everyone with a stake in higher education speaks fiercely against this extremist Ohio Republican overhaul, but lawmakers ignore them all and pass it anyway, it’s not just wrong; it’s deranged and perverse.

On a macro level, what we are really seeing are fanatic Ohio lawmakers with no expertise, using lies and fear, to inject themselves into consequential institutions of society, to hand down dictates over everyone with actual expertise: in education in this case, but also in science and health care.

The brain drain that would result from this calamity was made obvious in testimony after testimony.

“We will take our money out of Ohio universities, take our talent out of Ohio economies, and take our energy out of Ohio communities,” Ohio State University student Clovis Westlund warned lawmakers.

Ohio’s 2011 professor-of-the-year Steven Volk of Oberlin College wrote in the Columbus Dispatch, “This bill doesn’t support ‘intellectual diversity,’ inquiry, curiosity, or debate, and it must be defeated if we want to save higher education in Ohio.”

The best minds of generations — both our students and young professionals, and our sharpest minds in academia — will flee Ohio under such despicable circumstances.

If so many Ohio Republicans can’t raise their intellect enough to understand the massive destruction they will cause to education if they move forward with this repugnant plan, perhaps they should try to comprehend the economic devastation that will come from trying to emulate the authoritarian censorship regime on colleges and corporations of Ron DeSantis’ Florida:

The Walt Disney Co. announced last week that it was scrapping $1 billion worth of investment plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance, and product development.

Ohio’s public universities brought in nearly $69 billion to the state’s economy in the last fiscal year, according to a recent study. And this is despite the fact that they have already seen a 12% decrease in enrollment over the last decade.

Extremism has major impacts. Most people, especially young people, do not want to attend non-inclusive colleges or work for non-inclusive companies.

Using tyranny over higher education and companies doesn’t change that. It just drives most young people and many others, and the companies that want to hire them, all away.

State Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport. Official photo.

It also won’t change anything to try to start the right-wing tyranny over education early, as Freeport Republican state Rep. Don Jones designs to do.

While fear-mongering over the 1619 Project, which is not part of Ohio education curriculum, Jones has introduced legislation to boot the elected Ohio Board of Education from curriculum decisions, politicize a task force appointed by politicians to determine curriculum instead, and force Trump’s “1776 Report,” rife with lies and misrepresentations, to become standardized curriculum in Ohio’s K-12 schools.

Decrying alleged indoctrination without evidence, Jones seeks explicitly to impose right-wing indoctrination on 1.5 million Ohio children. Through 400 years since The Enlightenment began, generations have labored to overthrow tyrannical state-forced dogma and indoctrination in education. Now Jones seeks to reestablish it in Ohio.

But censoring knowledge and diverse perspectives from students will not convert them; it will only manifest a bitter resentment toward those who tried to cheat them out of that knowledge, when they eventually learn it anyway. A book has never been banned that people didn’t find a way to read.

The essential problem with government censorship regimes is that they charge someone with role as censor. As we see in Jones’ proposal, often these are clearly political appointments tasked with imposing political ideology.

I ask you, what unelected government political hack would you let regulate, limit, censor, and suppress your free consumption of human art and knowledge? My answer is, not one damn person. We have elected boards of education for good reason, and to abandon that, is to abandon reason itself.

But that’s exactly what the modern Republican Party has done under Trumpism these last eight years: They’ve abandoned reason itself. So no wonder they despise honest education.

This is no longer a recognizable “conservative” party in any sense.

True conservative philosophy, as defined and embodied by Edmund Burke, believes passionately in empirical evidence, and true conservatives believe in “conserving” pillar institutions, not taking a wrecking ball to them.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — MAY 10: Linda Wagner of Galena holds up a sign during a protest against the SJR 2 before the Ohio House session, May 10, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

True conservatives are hesitant and suspect to any radical changes. Now, the Trumpist Republican Party relentlessly pursues the most radical changes possible to every single foundational institution, from education to the pillars of democracy itself: such as with State Issue 1 in August attacking Ohio majority voter authority to hold this out-of-control Republican Statehouse accountable.

These Ohio Republican lawmakers, in the academic sense, are radical reactionaries pursuing a textbook authoritarian regime.

A reactionary wants to rip things away. With autocratic and authoritarian legal and political strategies, reactionaries work to roll back voting, civil, and human rights.

They typically believe in the Golden Age fallacy of some time in the past that they falsely idolize as idyllic using historical negationism, and they toil to impose their narrow worldview on everyone else around them, denying anyone who disagrees legal rights to freedom of thought and expression.

First they soft-peddle their proposals, until they’ve amassed the pure, raw power to throw the hammer down entirely.

I do not expect these Ohio Republican lawmakers perpetrating these assaults to truly comprehend a single concept I’ve outlined here, as they enthusiastically released their grasp on reality and honest intellectual debate a long time ago, and are now puddles of incoherent cognitive bias and dissonance.

But for all thinking Ohioans, this is the single most dangerous time I could ever imagine for the future of our once-great state.

Fanatical extremists in the Ohio Statehouse, elected under unconstitutional maps, are frothing and foaming to dismantle prized institutions of our free and open society, the very ones that have often made America the envy of the world.

Every alarm bell is ringing at once this summer. It’s time for all proud Ohioans and patriots to stand up, make our voices heard, and answer the call.



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David DeWitt
David DeWitt

OCJ Editor-in-Chief and Columnist David DeWitt has been covering government, politics, and policy in Ohio since 2007, including education, health care, crime and courts, poverty, state and local government, business, labor, energy, environment, and social issues. He has worked for the National Journal, The New York Observer, The Athens NEWS, and He holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and is a board member of the E.W. Scripps Society of Alumni and Friends. He can be found on Twitter @DC_DeWitt