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Commentary: Ohio GOP Uproar Over Critical Race Theory Is An Election Turnout Tool For 2022

critical race theory classroom
Mary Altaffer
Measures to ban the teaching of critical race theory have become law in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma and bills have been introduced in over a dozen other states, including Ohio and Kentucky.

Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly may lack many things, but chutzpah is not among them.

Now many of these deep thinkers want to tell you what you can and can't believe when it comes to the history of race relations in this country. And that's not all. They want to make it illegal to teach a concept known as Critical Race Theory (CRT) to your children in any K-12 school.

It seems to many a purely Orwellian notion.

You could certainly make a case for that, but the function of these two pieces of legislation – House Bill 322 andHouse Bill 327 – actually are to serve as wedge issues that will gin up the GOP voter base in next year's statewide election, causing Republican voters to work themselves into lather over an "outrage" that apparently is not a formal part of the curriculum in any one of Ohio's 611 public school districts.

In other words: Construct a straw man. Knock it down. Then thump your chest over what a great defender of freedom you are.

CRT is one of those things that is hard to define. Here's the Encyclopedia Britannica definition:

CRT is an "intellectual movement and loosely organized framework of legal analysis based on the premise that race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct subgroups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color. Critical race theorists hold that the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans."

And, the Republicans pushing this legislation argue, they are causing white children angst and shame over the behavior of white people in the past.

It's not just happening in Ohio. There are 20 states who have, or are considering, banning the teaching of CRT.

"There is no real definition for critical race theory,'' said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a professor of law at the University of Dayton and the Democratic mayor of the Cincinnati suburb of Wyoming. "It's a wedge issue that Republican politicians have created to fire up their base."

"There is nothing about this debate over critical race theory that moves America forward,'' said Hoffmeister. "It can only move us backwards."

So, what do the sponsors of this legislation have to say about their bills?

Well, nothing to me, because they have not returned my phone messages. But they have plenty to say on their Ohio House web pages.

State Rep. Don Jones, Republican of Freeport (population 369), is a former high school teacher in Eastern Ohio's Harrison County, home to about 16,000 people, 2.1% of whom are Black.

Here, according to Jones' website, is what House Bill 322 would do:

House Bill 322 would prohibit any state agency, school district or school from teaching, instructing or training any administrator, teacher, staff, member or employee to adopt or believe any of the following concepts, among others:

  • One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
  • An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
  • An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual's race
  • An individual's moral standing or worth is necessarily determined by the individual's race or sex
  • An individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
  • The advent of slavery in the territory that is now the United States constituted the true founding of the United States
  • With respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of or failures to live up to the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality. 

"Critical race theory is a dangerous and flat-out wrong theory," Jones said on his website. "It is designed to look at everything from a 'race first' lens, which is the very definition of racism. CRT claiming to fight racism is laughable. Students should not be asked to 'examine their whiteness' or 'check their privilege.' "
As for House Bill 327, co-sponsors State Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland) and State Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) say their bill to "promote education not indoctrination, by prohibiting school districts, schools, teachers and state and local entities, from promoting divisive concepts."

Grendell and Arthur say "this is an issue of concern for their constituents and parents across the state of Ohio, who have expressed concerns about increasingly racially antagonistic materials being taught in their children's classrooms."

"Racially antagonistic materials?"

State Rep. Catherine Ingram's 32nd Ohio House District includes part of the city of Cincinnati and Springfield Township. She is a former longtime member of the Cincinnati Board of Education. And the African-American legislator completely rejects the notion that teaching CRT is meant to make white students feel ashamed of their race.

Catherine Ingram.
Credit Courtesy
Catherine Ingram.

Ingram has no objections to the teachings of CRT, and thinks it's a mistake to ban the theory or any other theory based in history.

"We don't want to bully our children with guilt for sins of the past, but we do want them to be aware," Ingram said. "Students are told that Black folks have come so far. And that is true in many ways. But we also want them to understand the suffering and sacrifice Black folks endured to get where we are today. And that the struggle is by no means over."

"I think about 25, 30 years ago when there was that one Black child in a classroom full of white kids," Ingram said. "And I wonder, how did he or she feel about their race when their people's history was glossed over in the classroom as some kind of afterthought?

"Do people think this is over?'' Ingram said. "Do they not remember what the building of I-75 did to tear apart the West End of Cincinnati, something that largely Black neighborhood has never recovered from? Add on top of that the building of FC  Cincinnati's stadium in the West End."

If you cut out the teaching of Black history, "you just cut out the truth,'' Ingram said. "Should our young people not know about the Rosewoodand Greenwood massacres of Blacks back in the 1920s? Would that traumatize young white students?"

Hoffmeister said the idea that the Ohio House would want to legislate curriculum in a state as diverse as Ohio "makes no sense at all."

"Would what is good for (rural) Darke County be good for Hamilton County?" Hoffmeister said. "These are local decisions. The legislature should leave it alone,'' Hoffmeister said.

"And in what other areas does the state legislature think it should control what local school boards do?" Hoffmeister said. "Local boards are capable of making their own decisions."

Hoffmeister said he was impressed by how Ohio's Republican governor, Mike DeWine, handled the pandemic. "He has a chance to impress me again, if this legislation comes to his desk,'' Hoffmeister said. "He could impress me by vetoing the legislation."

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.