I had coffee with a friend recently and we started talking about the state of our public schools, like the fact that over 1,500 books have been banned in schools in the last nine months. I told him that it feels like public education is under attack lately. He responded that it’s been under attack since Brown v. Board of Education and maybe even before then.
I don’t want that to be true, but I know it is. And it’s no coincidence that children’s books like "Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story" by Ruby Bridges and "I Am Martin Luther King, Jr." by Brad Meltzer are showing up on banned books lists. Bills being introduced at the state level are trying to keep these books out of the hands of our children.
House Bill 616 is the latest one that will harm public education in Ohio by censoring what’s being taught. This bill combines "Don’t Say Gay" with teaching restrictions on race. Make no mistake – this bill will silence teachers. It calls for the creation of a complaint process so anyone could charge a teacher or administrator with violating the rules set forth in the bill. Teachers could have their teaching licenses revoked and schools could lose state funding if they are found to have violated those rules.
It seems that the goal is to create such uncertainty about rules and potential lawsuits that it scares teachers and administrators away from the subjects. This is part of an old playbook dating back to tactics used to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools. Teachers simply avoided the subject to make their lives easier. I’m afraid this is what’s going to happen with bills like HB 616, HB 322 and HB 327.
HB 322 and HB 327 were introduced last year and I argued in an op-ed this past October, "America, we need to face our history – all of it," that those bills would prohibit an accurate teaching of American history and restrict school districts' ability to work toward becoming more equitable and inclusive places for our children.
If you care about the future of education, it’s time to start paying attention to what’s going on at the state level and speak up. We need to protect public education and our teachers and administrators. We can’t leave them to fight these battles for us. We need to show up and support them.
Here are some ways we can do that.
Contact your state representatives and tell them that you oppose HB 616, HB 322 and HB 327.
Subscribe to your local newspaper. They often report on what’s happening in local schools and we need to keep local news alive and well because as the American Journalism Project states so eloquently, "Local news lends us agency, empowering us with the knowledge we need to make informed decisions about issues critical to our daily lives."
Speak at your next school board meeting. This is your opportunity to let your community know that you are a public education advocate and will hold the board of education accountable.
Include public education in conversations with your friends and family. We all pay taxes so we all have a stake in public education. It should be a topic of conversation.
Dr. Lisa Corrigan, an associate professor at the University of Arkansas, shared in a tweet that "Knowledge can never be taken away. This is why public education will always be central to freedom."
I agree. And this is why our kids deserve the freedom to learn.
Jill Jonassen lives in Liberty Township and works as a business systems analyst for a global marketing company. She is a strong advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion in education.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Opinion: We need to protect public education and our teachers