Our view: Critical race theory bills would poison future at the expense of kids

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Empathy goes hand in hand with reason.

The pains of history and the emotions they stir should not be avoided despite laws proposed in our statehouse and those around the nation.

We should all feel terrible that hatred led to the systematic murder of 15-year-old Anne Frank and 6 million Jews and 5 million others during the Holocaust.

More: Investigation leads to surprise suspect in Anne Frank’s betrayal

It should stir our souls to learn that 17 million people — a number that excludes the millions who died along the way — were trapped in Africa and transported here as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, an outrage the United Nations calls "the worst violations of human rights in the history of humanity."

Critical race theory: Gov. Mike DeWine says he opposes critical race theory but declines to define it

We should feel sorrow that some experts estimate as much of 95% of the native inhabitants of the Americas — as many as 20 million people — were wiped out by smallpox in the years following the arrival of Europeans.

Knowing and discussing factual occurrences of the past is not a bad thing even though they may make people feel bad.

We could go on and on about the horrors of history that could leave learners young and old with uncomfortable and/or unpleasant feelings.

Theodore Decker: Debate over critical race theory rages while racial inequities persist

In response to a national backlash against critical race theory — a subject local schools say isn't taught in K-12 classrooms and experts say is confined to graduate schools as a tool to evaluate how legal remedies to racial inequality fall short — Ohio lawmakers introduced bills they say would keep teachers from pushing 'dangerous' and 'divisive' ideas on students and protect the 'accurate' teaching of our history.

"Kids should not be made to feel bad about history," supporters cry.

The proposals have been pending for months. They should be rejected outright as toxic to children and truth.

These bills are not about protecting children from critical race theory, but they do create a boogeyman people fear.

Among other things, House Bill 327 would forbid so-called "race or sex scapegoating" and require "impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region."

How does one discuss genocide and other "historical oppression" in an "impartial" way that does not reject reason and the values this nation says it clings to?

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine

Impartiality when it comes to discussions about atrocities is a dark road to travel as a school district near Dallas found out when it was suggested that materials from Holocaust deniers needed to be inserted into lesson plans in the name of equal treatment.

The impartiality that House Bill 327 would require could mean discussing the wrongs of slavery balanced by lessons promoting its greatness.

House Bill 322, which reads similar to legislation proposed around the nation, says nothing be taught that makes an individual "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual's race or sex."

More: Worthington parent: 'Those who dare to criticize those in power will be targeted'

The goal of teaching history surely should not be to make children feel guilty about things their ancestors may or may not have done.

Still the distress of uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings often comes with the territory when it comes to discussing difficult subject matters.

A man wears a piece of tape over his mouth that reads "Silenced" while protesting against Critical Race Theory curriculum in Ohio school in September.
A man wears a piece of tape over his mouth that reads "Silenced" while protesting against Critical Race Theory curriculum in Ohio school in September.

The feelings we have about history can deepen understanding and give insight that will hopefully serve the future.

As British statesman Winston Churchill told the House of Commons in a 1948 address, paraphrasing Spanish philosopher George Santayana, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

As the song goes:

That it's all just a little bit of history repeating.

This is a fact apparently lost on elected officials including Gov. Mike DeWine, who says he opposes teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools but declined to define it during a meeting with the USA Today Gannett Ohio Network.

DeWine says slavery and other aspects of American history should not be sugarcoated, but said children should not be divided and we shouldn't make any "child feel they are a victim."

There is a giant gulf between learning about the complexities of history and becoming its victim.

There is a giant gulf between learning about something bad and internalizing it.

If lawmakers and elected officials were truly concerned about children feeling like victims, more of them would be pushing for more diversity and inclusivity in history lesson plans.

Many good and inspiring things happened in the past, but history — American and world — is full of a lot of brutality.

Teachers must be empowered to go beyond the surface to help students find truth.

It is one thing to know that Rome's Colosseum is an oval amphitheater and another to discuss what it means that most of the gladiators who fought in it were slaves.

The future of Ohio's children hangs in the balance.

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The governor said he wants children to be good citizens who are capable of critical thinking, research, and debate.

We should all want those things as well, but sugarcoating history to spare "feelings" is dangerous and is no way to promote understanding.

It is a betrayal of the past that poisons the future.

What will history say about us?

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Editorial: Ohio bills to ban critical race theory will poison future

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