“Divisive content” bills, which have proliferated since 2020, can be seen as pushback against attempts to improve police-community relations, reduce health disparities in infant mortality or COVID, or housing equity disparities – all of which necessarily involves analyzing what isn’t working in order to improve it. In another example of the same dynamic, two members of the Ohio School Board were pressured until they resigned this past fall, after refusing to vote to rescind a resolution against racism and for equity that the board passed in 2020 after Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.
Ohio’s Divisive Content bills
HB 322 and HB 327 have both had several hearings in the House State and Local Government Committee, and could come to a vote early this year. There’s more detail about them below. This is the time to write your personal testimony on the bills and submit it to the Committee chair, Rep. Scott Wiggam. In your email, ask his staffer Jordan Leatherwood to share your letter with every member.
The University of Cincinnati hosted a daylong virtual conference, Cincinnati’s Second National Day of Racial Healing, A recording of the first half is already posted online for you to watch for free. The panel starting at hour 3:05 of the recording offers context and action steps on the “divisive content” bills. Ohio Rep. Sedrick Denson (D-33), who represents Cincinnati, invites you to submit your own testimony to the House State and Local Government Committee. You can use this testimony for letters to the editor or guest columns also, by responding online to news stories or other opinion pieces. This very conference, which was sponsored by the United Way, Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Interact for Health, and major corporations, would be too risky for the university to hold if HB 327 passes.
UC Law School Dean Verna Williiams, speaking last week at Cincinnati’s National Day of Racial Healing Conference.
Conference speakers, including keynoter Heather McGhee and UC Law School Dean Verna Williams, explain how researching and teaching honestly about systemic disparities are vital for building a society and economy for all Americans to flourishMcGhee is the author of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can All Prosper Together.
The Statehouse News Bureau reported Sept. 29 about the provisions in HB 322 and HB 327. Together, they cover state agencies, K-12 public schools, and universities, the “gamut of education that the state provides,” said UC Law School Dean Williams. The bills “forbid teaching of divisive content” but permit teaching it “when part of a larger course of instruction, done in an objective manner, without endorsement,” she explains. They are “creating confusion, with the risk of losing state funding: that means that schools will largely avoid these topics, and so students from K-12 on up through law school are not going to learn subjects that are actually key to their being able to live in an increasingly diverse society, to be an educated adult, to think critically. These bills are terrible and they are actually promoting the opposite of what education is supposed to be about, shutting down important knowledge in the interest of stopping the spread of truth.”
Citing important policy histories like Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law, which describes federal racial discrimination in housing loans, Dean Williams added later that learning about this is “not calling anyone racist but finding out about how we got here. Structural issues – some race based, others not – affect us all. They don’t allow everyone to advance to their full potential. Maybe that’s the way to open the door.”
Cincinnati’s interfaith coalition EquaSion has issued a statement in opposition to these bills, citing the vital importance of honesty in education. The diocese’s ecumenical officer, the Rev. Melanie Slane, is a leader in EquaSion and also serves on the Diocese’s Becoming Beloved Community Leadership team.