Ohio House Republicans introduce bill to ban teaching of critical race theory

Anna Staver
The Columbus Dispatch

A growing group of Ohio’s Republican lawmakers say they’re troubled by a new way some schools are teaching history and they want to put a stop to it.

It’s called critical race theory or CRT for short. It’s an academic concept based on the idea that racism is more than individual bias. It’s a systemic problem that’s embedded into our legal system, our algorithms and our laws.

Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport

Supporters say CRT teaches how racism shaped public policy and life in America. Opponents, like the sponsors of House Bill 322, call it a dangerous and divisive theory.

“It is designed to look at everything from a ‘race first’ lens, which is the very definition of racism,” Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport, said in a statement announcing the bill. “CRT claiming to fight 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’s schools.”

What is CRT?

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a critical race theorist and a professor at UCLA and Columbia University, describes CRT as the understanding people who have racial biases (even unconscious ones) cannot create unbiased systems and laws.

One example is the way banks drew red lines around predominately Black neighborhoods to mark them as being high risk for home loans in the 1930s. Or how Amazon and other companies working on facial recognition software in 2019 created software that didn’t accurately recognize Black faces.

Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus.

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“It’s not saying every white person is inherently bad or every person is inherently racist,” Rep. Erica Crawley, D-Columbus said. “That is not critical race theory.”

She sees it as a way to spark conversation across Ohio classrooms about the way racism shows up in unexpected places like home loans or algorithms or the way kids are disciplined in school.

“We cannot address it if we don’t even identify it and discuss how it has shown up in our history,” Crawley said. “But I get they want to be comfortable and not address it.”

That’s not how Jones and his fellow Republicans view the issue.

“It’s a racist ideology that’s being pushed in our schools,” Center for Christian Virtue Director Aaron Baer said. “There’s a massive leap between CRT and respecting and celebrating diversity.”

Baer, a longtime advocate for school choice, said he’s fielded 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 back in September to cut off funding for training federal employees on CRT, calling it a “propaganda effort.”

“If you’re not teaching slavery in your American history classes, you are not a good teacher,” Baer said. “But you’re also a bad teacher if you say a student’s skin color means they are forever oppressors and irredeemable. That is at the core of CRT.”

What would Jones’ bill do?

That’s a sentiment being echoed through the country. States like Texas, Idaho, Tennessee and Rhode Island have all introduced bills to ban the teaching of CRT in public schools.

In Ohio, Jones’ bill has 26 Republican cosponsors and counting. And Rep. Diane Grendell, R-Chesterland, is working on a similar piece of legislation.

If passed, HB 322 would prohibit schools from requiring teachers to use examples from current events or ongoing controversial issues in their classrooms. And schools couldn’t require lessons about current pieces of legislation or the groups lobbying for and against them.

But the heart of HB 322 centers around how racism would be taught. Teachers couldn’t be required to “affirm a belief in the systemic nature of racism, or like ideas, or in the multiplicity or fluidity of gender identities, or like ideas.”

The bill bans the state board of education, school boards and school districts from requiring teachers and staff members to adopt the following beliefs:

“Meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.”

“An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

“Fault, blame, or bias should be assigned to a race or sex or to members of that race or sex because of their race or sex.”

“The advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States.”

That slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from true American values like “liberty and equality.”

“Republicans are very good at moral outrage and cultural war,” Rep. Jeff Crossman, D-Parma said. “They want to find issues that divide people along race 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 eyes.

“For most of our history, we’ve told one side of the story,” Crossman said. “And now we’re going to hear the perspective from the other side.”

Is this really being taught in Ohio schools?

Whether critical race theory is being taught to Ohio kids is a hard question to answer.

Parents have packed into school board meetings across the state and superintendents have sent letters explaining what is or is not being taught in their districts, but Ohio doesn’t keep a list of which schools are teaching what materials.

The Ohio State Board of Education sets standards like you must teach about the Civil War, but it doesn’t dictate what books or materials teachers use.

“We do not promote any curriculum,” Ohio Superintendent Paolo DeMaria told a House committee back in February when asked about CRT and 1619 Project produced by the New York Times. “We respect that, ultimately, it is the professional judgment of educators that matters the most.”

He said the state board does not “promote any curriculum.”

That’s not good enough for folks like Baer who want to see the board 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’re teaching. I’m taking my kids out, and I’m taking their money with them.’”