The Ohio legislature is about to destroy my academic discipline.
I was recruited by Bowling Green State University to be a professor of ethnic studies. I have taught courses on cultural diversity to thousands of students.
It seems likely that House Bill 327 will pass soon.
The bill defines seven ideas that cannot be “defended, practiced or promoted” by any public college or university.
Continued: History of ‘divisive concepts’ versus ‘whitewashing’: Critical race theory debate comes to Ohio Statehouse
Many of these ideas are common sense: no one should teach that “individuals of any race…are inherently superior or inferior” – indeed, ethnic studies was founded to combat such ideas.
But other forbidden concepts are so broad that they encompass well-established areas of research and debate.
Prohibiting teaching that “an individual…is unconsciously” racist runs counter to much psychological research on cognitive bias.
Prohibiting debate about whether “individuals should be treated unfavorably or favorably … on the basis of their race” effectively prohibits the search for remedies for racism. Prohibiting saying that “every individual cannot succeed … in because of the race of the individual”, it will be difficult to explain why so many slaves were illiterate and so few were wealthy.
Continued: Thomas Suddes: Ohio Republicans fuel base with flames that will burn history
Because the law requires each university’s board of trustees to review tenure policies to enforce the prohibitions of that law, and because the law does not provide clear guidance to faculty as to what constitutes a violation, many faculty talented will simply choose not to teach any subject, even remotely related to prohibited notions.
Administrators, among the most risk-averse people in the known universe, will choose to cancel programs and courses. Only the brave and the foolish will teach ethnic studies in Ohio in the future.
House Bill 327 defines promoting a concept as one of two things. The former is not something that every competent educator does: “indoctrination, coercion, coercion, or teaching an individual or group of individuals to accept a set of beliefs in a one-sided, biased and not critical.
Continued: What I Discovered About Critical Race Theory in Public Schools and Why It Shouldn’t Be Taught
The other definition in the bill reads like the essay of a freshman who didn’t do the reading but picked up a buzzword or two in class: “Instilling ideas, attitudes , beliefs, and cognitive strategies when transferring cultural traditions from one generation to the next in the hope that these traditions will not be challenged but practiced in the future.
Such muddled wording is bad law in any case, but the bill is much worse because it then continues to ignore the term it tried to define by substituting others. In the following sections, the bill uses the words “support” and “defend” without defining either.
Continued: ‘Laws looking for problems that don’t exist’: Republicans try to ban critical race theory in colleges
By using terms that are not legally defined, they are left open; their meanings can be extended to suit a wide range of circumstances.
Such loose language is dangerous because it blurs the lines and many will take the safer route of avoiding the whole topic.
Seemingly aware that their bill will chill free thought, the lawmakers have included a list of topics that professors can discuss “objectively and without approval.”
These include “the history of an ethnic group”, “controversial aspects of history”, “historical oppression”, and the “civil rights movement”.
Continued: Parents want children to learn the ongoing effects of slavery – but not critical race theory. It’s the same thing.
While appearing to create exceptions to its forbidden concepts, it sets a trap for the unsuspecting educator. Legally, what appears here as permissions actually depends on an authority’s judgment that the lesson was “objective” and without “approval,” a vague question at best.
Again, the cautious teacher will simply avoid one of these rocks rather than letting the others decide if they’ve strayed too far.
In a rare moment of realization of the bills’ own contradictions, lawmakers added an additional exception to the thoughts it proscribed: it allowed “the promotion of American nationalism.”
One might wonder why the GOP had to grant permission to be patriotic. Ironically, one of their forbidden concepts is the idea that “individuals of any national origin are inherently superior or inferior”.
Continued: Teach kids to hate America? Republicans want ‘critical race theory’ removed from schools
Someone has apparently realized that it is forbidden to proclaim that America is the greatest nation on earth.
Timothy Messer-Kruse is a professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University.