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Schoolchildren do need protected: from fearful, intolerant, bigoted bills pushed by lawmakers

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“We’ve got to protect the children!” You hear the refrain repeatedly from the gems trying to legislate banning and bullying in Ohio schools with bad to worse bills. “Save the innocents,” bray the right wingers angling for a break-out MAGA moment and the religious right on a mission from God. “From what?” you ask, as a befuddled parent happy with your local schoolteachers and administrators.

From “divisive concepts,” they intone with a straight face and conspiratorial certainty. From LGBTQ people. From trans athletes. From sex abuse prevention. (Sounds too much like sex education.)

Funny how Republican lawmakers and Christian conservatives — rushing to sanitize history, ban books, speech and tolerance in schools — miss the real peril schoolchildren are facing. But it’s the professional fearmongers who truly threaten our kids. Children need protection from exploitive adults primed to force their myopic beliefs and partisan agendas on the unsuspecting, impressionable young.

It is the righteous proselytizing about what ought to be done in schools — to fit an ultra-conservative (and minority) narrative — who pose the greatest risk to Ohio’s 1.8 million school-age children. Call the garbage pending in the Statehouse what it is; the worst kind of political and religious malpractice because it victimizes kids to score political points or win fundamentalist victories.

Protecting children has nothing to do with bills in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate that would whitewash American history lessons, erase the LBGTQ community, target transgender athletes playing female sports (there’s only one such athlete in Ohio) and even scuttle life-saving education about preventing sex abuse. The Republicans who sponsor these miserable measures, and their Christian nationalist partners, are clearly not doing it for the kids.

They are legislating for themselves, for their partisan advantage, for their virtuous triumph. They are using the pretense of protecting children to justify their fearful, intolerant, bigoted bills. The hardline fanatics dragging Ohio back to the Dark Ages, with legislation that would censor student learning and bully the most vulnerable, put all students at an educational disadvantage and some in genuine danger. Spare me the Grade A bulls*** about protecting kids.

Three equally egregious “divisive concepts” bills in the legislature demand that young Ohioans be saved from any knowledge of disquieting history and uncomfortable truths — like systemic racism. The proposed educational gag orders on Ohio schools won’t hurt the MAGA extremists in Columbus grandstanding for political attention. They get to ride the white backlash to the George Floyd reckoning with reactionary bills that ban critical thinking about race in Ohio classrooms.

It’s the students, who won’t receive a well-grounded education for their own good, and the teachers, who won’t be free to teach all-embracing lesson plans to stimulate learning, who will suffer the adverse effects of radical idiocy in lawmaking. Constrained and compromised instruction is destined to slide into the decline and fall of enlightenment. We’re closer than you think.

But expanding young minds and enhancing understanding to better prepare K-12 learners for a challenging future, is unimportant to those fixated on firing up midterm voters with bans on what students can read, discuss, question and be taught. Otherwise, the GOP supermajority would surely be moving heaven and earth to ensure that every student in Ohio has the indisputable benefit of a broad, rigorous, inclusive, well-informed education.

Who are we kidding? The MAGA party behind the concocted critical race theory hysteria and the trending “Don’t Say Gay” madness is going for short-term political gain not the betterment of anyone’s education. If the legislative bigotry and bullying up for debate in the Statehouse boosts November turnout, great. The partisan plan is precisely calculated to stir up fear and loathing of “the other.”

If the partisan spin from soulless lawmakers about saving children from “inherently racist concepts” and from “indoctrination” provokes an orchestrated parental revolt that gets angry voters to the polls, mission accomplished. Protecting children from being indoctrinated by a politically filtered education that officially discounts diversity is immaterial. Same goes for what awaits adolescent athletes on girls’ teams in Ohio who are — deep breath here — “accused” or “suspected” of being trans.

Placating the Christian right with a cruel trans athlete amendment, quietly inserted at the last minute into an unrelated education bill (passed and sent to the Ohio Senate) is a new low for even House Republicans. Never mind the emotional and physical trauma that would be visited upon trans athletes subject to outside accusations and mandated genital exams. Yet banning transgender athletes in female sports was hailed by a prominent Christian right group as a win for girls who “aren’t forced to compete against boys.”

The Center for Christian Values also weighed in against a bill to educate kids about sex abuse prevention — that is finally finding some legislative traction — by ignorantly conflating it with sex education, insisting that abstinence be stressed and demanding a parental opt-out. The fundamentalist lobby could seriously gut or outright derail a bipartisan measure, stalled for years, which would require teaching Ohio students invaluable age-appropriate lessons aimed at stopping abuse.

At least three dozen other states have adopted some form of “Erin’s Law” to protect preschoolers through high schoolers from being sexually abused or victimized by sexual violence. But making children aware, educated and empowered with resources and counseling is apparently a bridge too far for righteous extremists. It’s insane. We’ve got to protect the children — from becoming pawns of political agendas that hurt them.


Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.


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