Here we are in July 2021, and I have now been through six State Board of Education meetings. As I learn the inner workings of the state board, I also learn a great deal about the outside pressures that influence the work we do as board members. That reality has opened my eyes very quickly – public education is under attack in the state of Ohio.
As described in previous articles, the reach of the State Board is not far. Ohio is a district control state. This means that while the State Board makes resolutions and reviews rules, it is under the purview of each district to enact those rules and resolutions as they see fit. While that likely seems pretty straightforward, there is a vast political underbelly surrounding education in this state.
There are several items afoot in the Ohio Statehouse right now that evidence a concerted effort to deconstruct the fundamentals of public education, all while enacting harmful legislation that undermines the abilities of administrators and teachers to manage their individual districts and classrooms. Most importantly, this trend disregards the cognitive and empathetic abilities of our students to learn and discern facts and societal information, and frankly it gives our students very little credit.
If you have been following the news lately, you may have heard of House Bills 322 and 327 – one banning “critical race theory” (CRT) in K-12 schools and the second banning “divisive topics” in K-12 and secondary education. By using the term CRT, which actually references a lens in which to view legal issues, those perpetuating HB 322 work to frighten families into believing their children are being shamed in schools. The CRT argument is a smoke screen that distracts from the diversity and equity work being done on the ground in the districts. This work is district controlled, and any curriculum being taught has been selected locally to fit the community demographic. It has not been mandated by the Ohio Department of Education or the State Board of Education. Acknowledging race theory and history is not the same as shaming the majority.
HB327 treats students as fragile and unable to discern truth. Bills like these and the soft-pedaling of difficult discussions will set our workforce back decades by making each child fully inept to have hard discussions. Critical thinking and the ability to analyze subjects through discussion are more important now than ever because look around – adults aren’t serving as the best role models in these areas.
In the end, the State Board has virtually no say in any of these topics, as they are decided in the Statehouse and on local school boards. However, these national and regional discussions make their way into each topic in front of us at the State Board. It is my hope we can approach these difficult and divisive topics the same way we would want our kids to – with respect and courtesy for each other.
I proudly send my daughter to public school, and I hope for her that the collected experiences she has with kids from all walks of life will make her into a more whole person with a full understanding of the challenges and rewards each person brings to the table. Our differences are not to be feared, but it is those differences woven together that help us all become better versions of ourselves. Diversity builds community, not divisiveness. Let’s do better for our kids.
Michelle Newman is the District 9 representative on Ohio’s State Board of Education. The district includes Licking, Fairfield, Coshocton, Muskingum, Guernsey, Morgan, Perry, Hocking and Tuscarawas counties, as well as parts of Holmes, Pickaway, Athens and Franklin counties.