…and Mark’s Controversial Opinion!
As always, the blog pages of the Libertarian Party of Warren County are used to express opinions on the topic of politics and liberty. I don’t agree with everything that is written in our blog pages, nor a lot of what comes from LP national, and I don’t expect that everybody will agree with me. This article will certainly be controversial as I’m going to stake out my personal position on the deceptively-labeled “Don’t Say Gay” law passed in Florida and Ohio’s HB616 “regarding the promotion and teaching of divisive or inherently racist concepts in public schools.” Libertarianism is not a single point on a map. It covers a wide variety of views, but even when properly defined with the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP) at its core, there are a wide range of philosophies and opinions that fit under that umbrella. The NAP can be summarized as “don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff,” but quite a few opinions are possible when adopting that philosophy. I’m open to discussion of my view with any liberty-oriented person of good will.
For this article, I will begin by addressing the facts of Florida’s HB 1557 that recently became law and Ohio’s HB 616 that has been introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives. I will follow the facts with my own opinion on whether these are acceptable pieces of legislation and what liberty-minded people should be doing.
Florida’s HB 1557
The press loves to summarize Florida’s recently passed law as “Don’t Say Gay,” which is a blatant oversimplification and mischaracterization of the law. The law, as passed, is only four pages long, so feel free to read it yourself. It is primarily directed at the duties of school boards and here’s a short summary of what it does:
- Requires notification of parents for changes related to their students’ mental, emotional, and physical health.
- Ensures that parents retain access to their students’ education and health records.
- Prevents policies that would withhold data from parents, with exceptions for situations where abuse or neglect are expected.
- Prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
- Prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not developmentally appropriate in accordance with state standards (covering other grades).
- Training of district personnel must adhere to Florida Department of Education standards.
- Parents must be notified of healthcare services offered at their students’ schools and be given the ability to opt-out.
- Well-being questionnaires and health screening forms for Kindergarten through 3rd grade require parental consent.
- The law provides processes for resolution of parental concerns, up to and including approaching the Florida Board of Education via magistrate or suing their district.
- The law also requires a timely updated of counseling standards, educator practices, etc. in accordance with this law.
In summary: The approach of this law is to remove any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity from grades K-3, limit discussions in other grades, and ensure that nothing is happening without parental notification and consent.
Ohio’s HB 616
Republicans in the Ohio House have introduced HB 616. As of this writing, it hasn’t been sent to committee, according to the official status page. Like the Florida law above, the press is calling it a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It has similarities to the Florida law, but it also pursues halting the teaching of Critical Race Theory and similar philosophies. Like the Florida law, this bill focuses on the duties of the district-level boards of education. The Ohio bill is eighteen pages long because it takes the approach of showing additions and deletions to the Byzantine mess of the Ohio Code of Laws. If you stick to the highlighted additions and deletions in the bill, it’s still a fairly quick read. I recommend checking it out yourself. Here’s a short summary of what the Ohio bill does:
- It defines the term “Divisive or inherently racist concepts” (which I’ll abbreviate as DOIRC) that is used throughout the bill as Critical Race Theory; Intersectional Theory; The 1619 Project; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Learning Outcomes; inherited racial guilt; and “Any other concept that the state board of education defines as divisive or inherently racist, in accordance with rules adopted under Chapter 119. of the Revised Code.”
- Schools wouldn’t be allowed to use curricula, materials, or assignments designed to promote or endorse DOIRC.
- Training or development of employees who promote DOIRC would not be allowed.
- Schools wouldn’t be allowed to cover sexual orientation or gender identity topics for students in grades K-3.
- Schools would be restricted from covering sexual orientation or gender identity topics in a manner that is not age or developmentally appropriate according to state standards.
- It would require the development of a procedure for complaints, hearings, and enforcement.
- Violations would lead to licensing actions against the teacher, administrator, or district superintendent. (Not criminal charges, as some have claimed.)
- The state board would be required to adopt rules on this topic and the state board is also restricted from adopting DOIRC.
So, in summary, this bill is extremely similar to the Florida law with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity topics, but it adds a component of pushing back on several racial theories.
The Problem with Public Schools
This is all about public schooling and the problem is a one-size-fits-all system to begin with. The problem with public schools starts off with the fact that they are inherently a socialist institution and observing this fact certainly qualifies me as a crank. It’s absolutely true that I’m a heretic to the State Religion who went out of his way to homeschool his children and continues devoting time to assist homeschooling others. Much of the problem I have with public schools is their role as indoctrination centers for statist philosophies. However, for this discussion, let me at least start by accepting that such a system exists and focus on how such a system should be run.
In Ohio the public schools are funded by taxes (aka: theft). According to the Ohio Department of Education approximately 72% of the funding comes from the state’s general revenue fund, 11% comes from the Ohio Lottery (aka: a regressive tax on the gullible / math-challenged), and a mere 10% comes from property taxes. Because people are forced to pay taxes at every turn in Ohio, we expect something in return. Damn straight we expect the taxes to cover educating our children and damn straight we want our children to get the best education possible!
Because we have a system that is majority-funded by the state government the state government sets standards and chooses which curricula are acceptable. So, the schools become a political football for the Right and the Left to skirmish over. Both sides have their agendas and the schools become a battleground for the ongoing culture war which is becoming more heated every day.
If we are going to have such a system, I’m in favor of making it less of a political football. Further, I want to minimize the role any government institution plays in forming the culture. If we continue down the current path we will let see every fashionable political ideal get pushed onto impressionable young minds with no filters and it will happen immediately. What gets taught becomes a product of which party is currently in power and whatever their agenda is this week.
Because Ohio’s HB 616 covers two topic areas, let me cover my opinions on the two topics separately.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
It’s because of this topic that the Florida law and the Ohio bill get the inappropriate, misleading label of “Don’t Say Gay.” Instead, both prevent any discussion of any kind of gender identity of sexual orientation topics in grades K-3 and follow a prescribed set of standards for what students are exposed to.
On the social Left we have people who want to affect the culture by ensuring that children are introduced to these topics at a very young age and remove all cultural taboos related to these topics. They want to ensure that a culture of complete acceptance is achieved by teaching it to children, including ones in grades K-3.
On the social Right we have people who would like to prevent the normalization of certain lifestyles and concerns that introducing children to these sexual topics at a young age is not only inappropriate in the moral sense, but that it could actually encourage gender disphoria, leading to reassignments before their bodies have a chance to develop naturally.
In the libertarian mindset, we have to look at this from at least a couple angles:
- Do we want the government involved in this at all? We’ve seen again and again how the Law of Unintended Consequences leads to countless issues when government gets involved in any topic. The fact is that the Republican approach, here, actually limits government involvement via the school system. It limits government actions for a few short years of a student’s life. If little Johnny has a question about something he has seen, the school should tell him to talk to a parent or guardian about it. It’s not the government’s business to affect such young minds on this topic.
- Shouldn’t decisions be made at a lower level? Many libertarians, myself included, hold decentralization as a core value. For me it matches up nicely with a religious concept called subsidiarity. Decisions on what should be taught on this subject should be made at the lowest possible level. While people want to argue about the school district versus the state, I’ll take it further and argue that these decisions should be made by the parents and no level of government should be deciding that for anybody’s family. Here I also have to give props to the Florida law for ensuring that the parents are informed on what’s going on and have the ability to opt-out on some items. Do any libertarians truly believe that a government institution, at any level, trumps the authority of a child’s parents to determine what’s best for the child?
- More on decentralization. Before we ever get to exactly what the schools are teaching and how on this specific topic, shouldn’t we be working to decentralize everything related to schooling? If taxes are collected at all for this, it should follow the student to private and parochial institutions, as well as homeschooling, forcing the state-run institutions to compete for the resources that follow the students on the quality and content of that education. However, watch out for the educational standards that might arrive along with the taxpayer money!
- Why is anybody looking for the schools to teach any of this at all? Society and the government we live under are two separate things! Society is where culture is formed and government is truly downstream of culture where it belongs. If you believe otherwise, you likely need to unlearn some things picked up via government schooling. If you want to influence society to follow your philosophy, exercise your 1st Amendment by working with clubs, churches, youth organizations, and educational groups to affect things in your direction, rather than using the government at any level to force your agenda down everybody’s throats.
Devisive or Inherently Racist Concepts
This is another area where we are seeing an inherent culture war where both sides are seeking control.
I believe that the Right has a solid point in pushing back against a set of racist philosophies. Critical Race Theory sets out social characteristics of people based on the color of their skin. It denies that we are all individuals with different beliefs and behaviors regardless of what group we might have been born into. Being born white doesn’t automatically make you a racist, and to say so is clearly a racist statement. Being born of another race doesn’t make you automatically an oppressed victim. Being white doesn’t make somebody guilty of slavery, an institution that ended in the US more than 150 years ago. Following the tenets of this philosophy could spell the end of Western civilization as we know it.
Don’t take my word for what each of these theories stands for, but check out what is being said about them in well-researched and written libertarian works in the links below:
- Michael Rectenwald, a former Marxist, covers Critical Race Theory and Critical Whiteness Studies. Indeed, these are theories that deny individuality and treat people only as members of groups that they were born into.
- John Rosenberger on Intersectional Theory, where coalitions are formed and membership is qualified using racial, ethnic, sexual, and other physical identities to unite against other groups identified in a similar fashion. By definition, again, we have a racist (and sexist, etc.) philosophy that actively pits groups against each other.
- Robert Murphy, noted economist, on the 1619 Project. He defeats the basic assertion that slavery was a source of efficiency by which the United States was built, rather than an actual hindrance to the economy.
- Inherited Racial Guilt…OK, I’m not even going to bother, here. If words have defined meanings at all, and somebody believes that somebody has inherited some kind of guilt because of something their ancestors did, could there be a clearer case of racism by definition?
However, I’m having a hard time finding a single document or theory called “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Learning Outcomes” in order to state whether or not such things are always harmful. If the Ohio Legislature would like to pass a law, then they had better be more clear on what they mean.
Likewise, I’m concerned about the phrase “any other concept that the state board of education defines as divisive or inherently racist.” While it’s stated to be in accordance with some other guidelines, this could certainly broadly interpreted and easily abused.
In principle, I agree with much of what the Republicans in the State House are trying to do by stopping government institutions from spreading harmful ideologies that are racist by definition. Meanwhile, statists love Identity Politics and philosophies that pit people against each other, rather than the State. By ensuring that people spend all of their time being mad at each other, they can distract them from the immense volume of threats, lies, theft, and violence perpetrated by the State against people of all sorts everywhere.
From the libertarian mindset, again:
- Do we want to stop government institutions from teaching theories that are racist? Absolutely, and reverse-racism is still racism.
- Shouldn’t decisions be made at a lower level? Work to truly decentralize education in every possible way, as described above. You shouldn’t just cherry-pick the topics, as education will either be centralized or decentralized as a whole. Anything that opens up more competition with government schools is a positive.
- What is the best way to fight racism of all types? Work socially with your clubs, churches, youth organizations, and educational groups to affect the change you want to see. We don’t need either side of the cultural divide forcing their agenda down everybody’s throats.
I’ve shared the facts about Florida law and about Ohio’s HB 616. I’ve encouraged you to go read them for yourself. Don’t gripe about my interpretations and opinions of these documents if you haven’t read them yourself. Be intellectually honest.
I’ve also shared my opinions on the topic, but as a libertarian, I don’t force my opinions on anybody. I may be the current Chair for the Libertarian Party of Warren County, but that doesn’t make my opinions anything sacred and no efforts have been made within the affiliate to put forth a position on this controversial topic. If you agree or disagree, reach out and let me know. I’m up for debating the topic with anybody and perhaps we can both learn something from each other.
That said, I generally favor the approach of the Florida law and Ohio’s HB 616. I do have some concerns about the specifics stated in several places, but I genuinely favor acts that limit what government institutions can do at any level, especially when they are in favor of allowing decisions to be made at the lowest possible level. In this case: the parents.