Editorial: Let Ohio teachers teach truth. Educators, kids casualties of raging culture war


A recent editorial by the Columbus Dispatch:

Lawmakers want you to worry about imaginary “perverts.”

Teachers come with a variety of political leanings and by and large do the work because they want to make a positive impact in their students’ lives.

They are our neighbors, friends and family members, not enemies with nefarious goals of turning kids into so-called woke liberals.

You would not know that from the ever-expanding list of corrosive bills currently in the Ohio General Assembly aimed at restricting the work of a group of trained professionals hit hard with stress, fear and in some cases threats of or actual physical violence during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here in Ohio, the latest insult to education and learning is House Bill 616, which would suppress what teachers can teach kids about the LGBTQ community, racism and history.

How is teaching harsh truths being attacked?

The partly copycat, us against them legislation would ban teachers from discussing racism much like House Bill 327, a GOP assault on so-called “divisive concepts” that, as it reads, would include issues such as slavery and discrimination and the fact that 11 million people — 6 million of them Jews — were exterminated by the Nazis.

That last historical truth is something that House Bill 327 co-sponsor Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur, R-Ashtabula, apparently did not grasp during a March Zoom interview with WEWS News 5 Cleveland.

As part of comments that demonstrate she perhaps would be served by a history lesson, Fowler Arthur said “hundreds of thousands of people (were murdered) for having a different color of skin.”

The Nazis persecuted Jews not because of the color of their skin, but due to a list of reasons that included antisemitism, wild conspiracies and “prejudice that linked the Jews to monetary power and financial gain,” according to the Anne Frank House.

Equally as troubling, Fowler Arthur — a former Ohio Board of Education member who was home-schooled — suggested the point-of-view of a “German solider” (a Nazi) should be weighed with those of a Jewish survivor when studying the Holocaust.

There are multiple sides in history. In this case and many others, they are not equal.

House Bill 327 — which could also have major implications for public libraries and how public agencies offer diversity and inclusion training and programs — and House Bill 322 have received much attention as part of discussions of the supposed teaching of Critical Race Theory.

The latter reads like legislation proposed around the nation. It says nothing can be taught that makes an individual “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex,” among many other things.

That is an affront to learning and teachers.

History is often uncomfortable and unpleasant, but do we really think so little of our educators that we think they would do things to make kids feel psychological distress or guilt?

Why is House Bill 616 a dangerous solution in search of a problem?

As part of House Bill 616, teachers would be prohibited from providing instructional material on sexual orientation and gender identity to students in kindergarten through third grades.

They would be barred from teaching those in fourth through 12th grades “in any manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

While simultaneously arguing the bill should not be called “Don’t Say Gay” — the nickname opponents gave the Florida law Ohio’s bill is partly modeled after — some have questioned the morals of those who teach children about LGBTQ issues.

There seems to be a high level of confusion about what occurs in Ohio’s classrooms as illustrated by a recent tweet from Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, who is sponsoring House Bill 616 with Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland.

“Why are Democrats and the media upset about a bill that prevents curriculum about sex and gender identity being taught to 6-year-olds? Help me understand,” he wrote.

Twitter users StephanieBumpus responded, “Ok, we will make it simple for you. We aren’t. Wanna know why? It’s not a thing. Wanna know how we know? We asked teachers.”

Like the other wedge issue bills stoking fear of “the other,” 616 is a solution in search of a problem that does not exist.

Neither sexual orientation nor gender identity curriculum is required in Ohio sex education (health education) classes, according to a state analysis by Sex Ed For Social Change and the Ohio Department of Education’s website.

Sex education of any kind is very limited for those in grades K-3. What older kids learn about their bodies varies from district to district, but abstinence is a constant for sexual health education.

Meanwhile, Ohio has real problems that are being sidestepped and ignored.

While lawmakers worry about imaginary “perverts” teaching kids about the real topic of gender, a bill has stalled that would require that child sexual abuse prevention be taught in kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms and sexual violence prevention in grades 7-12.

Parents should and do have a say in what their kids learn. They can opt kids of any age out of all or any part of health education including those about important topics such as sexually transmitted disease prevention.

Instead of protecting kids, passage of 616 would put a larger target on the backs of LGBTQ youth and erase anything that would broaden understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people from schools.

“My interpretation is there can be no books of any kind that deal with any LGBTQ+ issues,” Ohio State Board of Education member Christina Collins said as part of a Dispatch article.

Teaching is among America’s most undervalued yet critically important professions. It should not become a casualty of the culture war raging in our Statehouse and others.

Ohio children — the state’s future — deserve to know the truth.

These bills would disrupt teachers’ ability to do what they are trained to do: teach.

Let’s leave them to the job they love and are more than qualified to do.

Let’s put kids before politics.

— Columbus Dispatch, April 10