KENT, Ohio (WJW) – Demonstrators at two area universities on Wednesday hoped to send a message about a proposed state law that some feel amounts to censorship of what can be taught in Ohio schools.
Students at the University of Akron and at Kent State University voiced opposition to House Bill 237, which is currently being considered in a state house committee.
The proposed bill would prohibit the teaching of any “divisive concepts,” including any nationality or ethnicity is superior to another, the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist and issues related to discrimination, race and sex stereotyping.
“No school district shall teach, instruct or train any divisive concepts, nor shall any school district require a student to advocate for or against a specific topic or point of view to receive credit for any coursework,” the proposed law says.
It continues to say, “No school district shall accept private funding for the purpose of developing a curriculum, purchasing or selecting course materials, or providing teacher training or professional development for a course promoting divisive concepts.”
“Really the main bulk of it is the divisive topics, the idea that people would be uncomfortable bringing up certain things in a classroom and that really restricts a teacher’s ability to effectively do their job, said Aaron Uhl, a history education major at the University of Akron.
“They are trying to take away Black history and LGBTQ from all schools and stop them from teaching it,” said Charm Lewis, a University of Akron criminology senior.
The bill would allow the impartial discussion of issues that include ethnic history and oppression “as described in textbooks and instructional materials adopted in accordance with the Revised Code concerning textbooks and instructional materials.”
Demonstrators on Wednesday say that amounts to censorship.
Robert Peralta, a professor of sociology at the University of Akron was among the demonstrators.
“They need a solid education. They need to learn how to deal with complex ideas, with complex issues. They need to learn how to engage in civic dialogue and this bill threatens all of that,” Peralta said.
Of concern is that the bill, if passed, could impact the Advance Placement, or AP status of related classes in Ohio high schools.
The fear is that eliminating divisive topics that will be a part of college-level curriculum would threaten the AP designation of high school courses where the content would be governed by the law.
“So when you take an AP class, that allows you to not have to take basic level courses. You can go into sophomore level classes because you completed these courses,” said Peralta.
While the description of what is deemed “divisive” is rather broad, the penalty in the house bill for districts that are in violation of the proposed law are very specific.
“If the superintendent of public instruction determines that any school district knowingly violates the prohibitions prescribed in division of this section, the Department of Education shall withhold state funding from the district.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by State Reps. Diane Grendell, of Geauga County, and Sarah Fowler Arthur, of Ashtabula County, neither of whom were available for comment on Wednesday.
“Part of a good history lesson is maybe a little bit of discomfort. We need to be able to look at things that might not be comfortable and learn from them. Discomfort is just part of the scenario that we are in,” said Uhl.