Two education bills currently being considered by Columbus lawmakers would ban discussion of “divisive topics” like racism and sex in K-12 schools. They are known as the “Critical Race Theory” bills.
However, teachers and students in northeast Ohio say critical race theory is not taught in the classroom. What is taught is American history, which can be uncomfortable and complicated.
At Rhodes College and Career Academy, a high school in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, Jimmy Musser teaches US government and Advanced Placement Government and Politics. If Musser knows he is going to teach his students a complicated history or current events like the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he says he is “intentional” about it and has a plan.
“If you go into class one day and say, hey, we’re going to talk, you know, about the internment of the Japanese in WWII or we’re going to talk about the bus boycott, or we’re going to talk about George Floyd today. and from what a white Minnesota cop did without planning for it, if you just want to have a heated conversation that’s what you get, ”Musser said. “And that’s usually when parents call schools for teachers to be examined. “
It is imperative that teachers make sure their administration knows “the way” that their lesson plans are going, Musser said. And, he adds, he likes to use primary sources, that is, real documents from the period his class is studying.
“One of the best primary sources that can be studied in American history or the US government is Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham prison,” Musser said. “So if anyone wants to tell me that this teaches critical race theory, they are very wrong.”
The two bills debated in Columbus do not mention Critical Race Theory by name, but House Bills 322 and HB 327 legislate on what would be taught in Ohio classrooms, particularly in regarding the lessons on race in America.
Critical race theory is taught primarily in law school. It is not taught in K-12 schools. He sees racism as something so deeply rooted in American history that it is woven into the systems that run the country today.
“Critical race theory for me is no different from the way we study immigrant history, the way we study European history, the way we study women’s history,” said John Adams, African American Studies teacher at CMSD John Hay High School. “We break it down into different tribes and different countries and different cultures and different races, don’t we? We deconstruct all the other groups of people. But for some reason when it comes to racing in America there are tough limits to what we can say or discuss. “
The GOP-sponsored bills are based on a misconception of what happens in classrooms, according to Adams.
“They operate from the belief that the goal is to make white people look bad or that the goal is to make white children ashamed of being white, which is not the intention at all. But I think they operate from that premise, ”Adams said.
But some parents argue that is exactly what is happening.
Karen Matier, a mother of four, recently pulled two of her children out of the Hudson City School District because she didn’t like the way early discussions about gender identity and sexuality were brought into the classroom. She believes white college students have been intimidated and vilified by teachers when discussing race.
Matier said she tried to be part of a diversity, equity and inclusion group for Hudson Schools, believing that as a conservative Catholic she added a good perspective, but she didn’t has not been selected.
Matier said his concern while driving was as follows.
“How do we keep Hudson in excellent schools and not just create a social system where you ignore parental concerns and move forward with something we may not yet agree with,” said Matier .
She is pointing fingers at the National Education Association, a teachers’ union, which she says recently pledged to support George Floyd Remembrance Day and Black Lives Matter Pride Week. Matier says this is all going too far.
And, she says, take for example how slavery is approached in schools. Matier says educators should recognize different types of slavery in American history.
“You also have to remember that slavery happened to children. They were used in factories and died by the hundreds, ”said Matier. “Women… until a hundred years ago could not even vote. So there was a lot of slavery that happened. And yes, black slavery. I totally agree that it was a terrible situation. But time would show that we have learned and that we have learned and that we have grown and that we have grown.
Owen Ganor, 17, a high school student from Rocky River High School, has a different take on the subject.
“This nation is basically founded on slavery and racism,” Ganor said. “And I feel like we need to have these discussions about how race plays out in government systems.”
Ganor is a member of SPEAK – Students Promoting Equity and Knowledge. The student group was organized by Meryl Johnson, a member of the State Board of Education.
Ganor was in Columbus when hearings were held recently on the two House bills, but he did not have a chance to speak. If he had, he said, “I would say white children like me don’t need protection from our upbringing.”
Another SPEAK member, Jacob Rintamaki, 17, of Westlake High School, is afraid that lawmakers will limit what is high in his class.
“If we are not able to have these discussions on fundamental topics of our society, on basic concepts, on racism, on the way race and gender and other things, which can sometimes be a little sticky, if we can’t have discussions about them, how are you going to be able to become effective members of society? And the answer is that with these invoices, we won’t do it, ”Rintamaki said.
Rintamaki said he found it ironic that the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council [ALEC] was the initiator of the drafting of Critical Racial Theory Legislation which is introduced into state legislatures across the country.
“Many of these titans of the industry, these very high-ranking politicians, are terrified of an educated population having meaningful and truthful conversations about race, identity and sometimes sensitive topics,” said Rintamaki.