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Ohio House Bill 327 Would Outlaw “Divisive” Concepts in Schools, Shred the Community Fabric

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When my son was in the first grade, he came home from school and said, “I hate myself.” When I asked why, he said it was because he had the same skin color as those who put chains on Africans. Then he cried heavily. I asked the teachers what he saw and discussed that day and used those tools to have a deeper talk with my son and with the teachers.

What is Ohio HB 327?

That was 2018. In 2022 and beyond, my state of Ohio could have a law to prevent this type of scenario. As a result, young students could be kept from learning about slavery. HB 327, a bill to ban teaching “divisive concepts” will soon leave committee. Next it will come up for a vote and is widely expected to pass in the Ohio House and Senate. Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, could sign it into law within weeks. Similar measures in Florida, Texas and other states could pass, as politicians face elections and ramp up for possible presidential runs. 

If Ohio HB 327 becomes law, a learning experience like my son’s could become a reason for a family to sue the school, and perhaps even specific educators. Districts could face funding cuts at first offense with steeper cuts for subsequent offenses. Families could sue instead of engaging with the schools, seeking to penalize instead of dialogue.

That would be a chilling, regressive transformation in education for students, families, educators and society in general.

Discomfort is a Teaching Tool

I had some choices when my kid came home and said what he said. I could have wanted to prevent his discomfort. I could have been mad at the teachers for allowing my child to hurt. I could have demanded he leave the room whenever difficult topics were covered. I could have argued that he was too young to see such images.

But seven-year-olds of color, perhaps some from the very same class, cannot opt out of these conversations. They do not have the privilege of avoiding the residue of slavery, or the more present assaults of racism. 

It is not my role as a parent and teacher to keep my children and students comfortable. I must support the growth of individuals and the community. As a white parent and teacher I could choose to shelter my own children and, to some extent, my students. But that would skip important growth and perpetuate lies.

HB 327 is an Attack on Teaching

The language of OH HB 327 is “to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.” What “divisive” means seems to be left up to future court opinions, at this point. Further, the bill prohibits teaching that “meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex to oppress another nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex.” With the overwhelming evidence that meritocracy is a myth, I could not possibly teach otherwise. Should HB 327 pass, that last sentence could cost me my job in my lifetime home of red-state Ohio.

When my own children or my students experience discomfort when they learn difficult histories, I will comfort them. I will support them by showing them examples of leaders who confront injustices. I will encourage them to use their voices and skills to make the differences that they want to make. But, I will not avoid “divisive” or uncomfortable topics. I will continue to teach content that we know to be true, about slavery, voting rights, housing restrictions, and generational wealth. I will teach them to ask questions, investigate and engage. That facilitates growth. That bridges divides in the community. That is education.

My 1st grade son and I both grew through the experience of dialoguing with each other and his teachers. It opened discussions of race, history, personal responsibility and how to navigate discomfort in such topics. We became further educated instead of denying, punishing, or avoiding. We engaged, and we learned. 

We must defeat Ohio HB 327 and similar bills that threaten the heart of learning. And when we cannot defeat them, we must defy them.

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