You Can’t Be “Sort of” Inclusive
Inclusion Under Fire
Is it just me or is there a huge gap in logic here? I have been asking myself this question a lot lately. I see numerous news reports out of Florida where Governor DeSantis or other public officials congratulate themselves for promoting inclusivity and freedom in education. It makes me wonder, is there such a thing as “sort-of” inclusive? In case you’re not up to date on Florida’s education policy, allow me to provide a few highlights of what this “inclusivity” looks like.
- The Stop W.O.K.E. Act, 2022 – Sets limits on how issues involving race can be taught. It allows parents to sue teachers and school districts that violate it.[i]
- The Parental Rights in Education Act, 2022 – Known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, it prohibits discussion about gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade. It also puts vague and confusing parameters on how these topics can be taught to older children.[ii]
- DEI Funding – Days ago, DeSantis announced that he plans to ban state universities from spending money on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in hopes that they will “wither on the vine” without funding.[iii]
- AP African American Studies – The Florida Department of Education asserted that a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course lacked educational value and they would not be teaching portions of it in the state. The statement led to a barrage of back-and-forth between the College Board, the body that oversees advanced placement courses, and Florida officials, with the College Board accusing DeSantis of slander and DeSantis eliminating the course in Florida and threatening to “reevaluate” its relationship with the organization.[iv]
For clarification, “woke” ideology, like Critical Race theory or the 1619 Project, seems to be defined as perspectives not written by white, heterosexual people. Those who oppose so-called “woke” ideology seem to believe that restricting different viewpoints is educational freedom while eliminating different perspectives is inclusive. I don’t believe that eliminating those topics is inclusive or democratic.
Critics of The 1619 Project are quick to point out some of the inaccuracies in the project. Yet, those same critics don’t seem to share that concern over the idea that we still teach that Columbus discovered America. (He never landed here.) This teaching, of course, erases roughly 10,000 years of Native American history. Researchers estimate that around 60 million Native Americans lived here prior to Columbus doing anything. If we are going to be critical of historical perspectives, then we need to be critical of all perspective including those created through a White, Anglo lens. Demonizing other cultural perspectives while only embracing the current standard, not only lacks inclusion and democracy, but it also promotes prejudices and represents inequity.
Paying Lip Service to Inclusion
If you look at the Florida BOE website (which is currently honoring Black History Month without a wisp of irony) it appears to indicate that they are practicing inclusion. The website beautifully outlines the tenets of inclusion. There are many authoritative sources that also outline the tenets of inclusion and I doubt that they would place any of Florida’s recent education policies in the “inclusion” category. One definition that makes sense to me comes from a group I participate in known as The Reflective Supervision Collaborative, which says inclusion is “looking for ways to include, involve, uplift, and recognize those who might otherwise have been excluded from any aspect of a program or service delivery and to examine visible and invisible barriers to access and participation.”[v] Sadly, in the case of Florida, there are many barriers that those in power don’t seem willing to examine.
Ohio Board of Education and Inclusion
Unfortunately, in some ways, Ohio is not far behind Florida. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder the Board of Education passed an anti-racism and equity resolution. A year later, however, they rescinded that resolution, promoting instead, academic excellence “without respect to race, ethnicity or creed.”[vi] Laura Kohler who was the State Board president at the time and who supported maintaining the equity resolution ended up resigning from her position after the Ohio Senate resisted her reappointment. At the time she stated, “I voted not to rescind [the equity resolution] and I believe that the fact that I was not going to be confirmed by the Senate is the result of that vote.”[vii]
More recently, our state board of education demonstrated that it is still in danger of falling into the sort of inclusive trap. Late last year, Ohio’s BOE determined transgender students should not be allowed any type of protections included in Title IX.[viii] This decision arose because of provisions put in place by President Biden extending protections relating to gender identity and sexual orientation in the statute. To put it another way, most of Ohio’s Board of Education members have such strong opposition to the idea of extending Title IX rights to transgender people that they are willing to violate a federal mandate to make this point.
These members have justified their position by claiming their decision protects parents’ rights. The problem is that they do not seem overly concerned about rights of the parents who are trying to support their transgender children in a potentially hostile atmosphere. It’s a policy that begs the question, whose rights are we protecting?
Furthermore, creating a policy based on the idea that the needs of a transgender child are a violation of parents’ rights, opens a door to discrimination and exclusion. For example, what if Christian parents don’t want their child to be exposed to Muslim culture? Do we create policies that ignore federal mandates for the protection of religious liberties, tell Muslim children they can’t talk about their home life and justify that as honoring parents’ rights? If affluent parents don’t want their child to hear about a classmate who is living in poverty because it makes their child feel badly, do we shut down the conversations about poverty under the umbrella of parents’ rights? Back in the 1960s and prior, school boards honored the requests of White parents who did not want their children attending school with Black children. Once again, this is an example of a policy meant to honor parents’ rights that promoted discrimination and violence while not supporting inclusion in any way.
Ohio’s Legislators and Inclusion
Ohio legislators have also been, shall we say, “creative” with the definition of inclusivity when it comes to policy proposals that target the LGBTQ+ community. Take House Bill 616 from the 134th General Assembly, which aimed to codify discrimination against this group. The bill proposed that kindergarten through third grade teachers could not talk about sexual orientation or gender identity lest they be sued. For students who are gay or who have same sex parents, the simplest of discussions about family life could now be off-limits.[ix] This is not inclusive.
Do teachers simply say we can’t talk about that here? Young children form their identities from their culture. When young children are shut down, they often perceive that the “taboo” topic is a closed topic because it is bad. They internalize that thought. It might sound something like this, “I come from same sex parents, my teacher can’t talk about it, it must be bad, therefore I must be bad.”
HB 616 would have also banned curriculum like Critical Race Theory, the topic of intersectionality and The 1619 Project. It also would have prohibited the measurement of diversity, inclusion, and equity outcomes in curriculum. The bill’s proponents claim that those practices are racist. In my opinion, the opposite is true: banning those practices is racist.
With legislation like this, it appears many legislators have determined Ohio’s educators can’t teach differing perspectives and then engage children in critical thought. Anti-bias education allows for the presentation of multiple perspectives with the intent of allowing students to engage in critical thought. Shutting down such discussions creates prejudice, fear, and internalized hate within marginalized populations. Incidentally, 82 of 99 Ohio representatives are White and 27 of 33 Ohio senators are White. To me, that suggests that when White people hold the power, White people get to make up the rules about racism, while at the same time denying that systemic racism exists.
Striving for More Than Sort of Inclusive
Be Aware of How Your Own Culture Impacts Your Perspective
So, what would it look like if we were inclusive and not sort of inclusive? We can start by being aware of how our own culture has impacted us and acknowledge that it is not beneficial to force one’s cultural perspective on another.
Unfortunately, our state BOE members failed to do that. In response to President Biden’s Title IX changes last year, one state board of education member put forward a resolution in opposition. It is wrought with personal and religious beliefs as well as misinformation about the terms “sex” and “gender.”[x]
The language in that resolution was eventually softened and edited but the bias remains. The philosophy can still be traced to the concept that a group of people have imposed their cultural bias on educators and the children being educated. This policy is an example of how one’s personal culture trickled down to create educational policy and how that will negatively impact the way in which already marginalized LGBTQ+ children and families are treated. The National Association for Education of Young Children warns against the damage that can be done when we impose our personal cultural perspectives on others..[xi]
Include Diversity of Perspectives in Decision Making
Furthermore, even though our legislators are made up of primarily White people, that does not mean that they are doomed to be non-inclusive. In the future, before making decisions based on their own cultural beliefs, they could put a taskforce together composed of people of multiple cultures. They can make a deliberate effort to recognize their personal biases and ensure those biases do not play into the decision-making process. They can even hand the decision over to a multicultural decision-making team. That is what inclusion and anti-bias practice can look like.
Scaffold Complex Topics Starting at a Young Age
Another way that opponents of Critical Race Theory have undermined inclusion is by claiming that it is too deep of a concept to teach to youngsters. That is faulty logic. In education we are constantly planting the seeds for learning based on the scaffolding of concepts. For example, teaching physics to 6- year-old children might happen when we ask open-ended questions about the ups and down of a teeter totter. Later, in high school, that concept is explained in a more complex way — using terms like fulcrum, lever and gravitational force. The same can be true of CRT. Teaching a 6-year-old about CRT can begin by talking about power or reading books like “Sneetches and Other Stories” by Dr. Seuss. Later in high school more complex concepts are introduced regarding the interplay of race and power.
What Real Inclusivity Looks Like
Schools shouldn’t be forced to hide their rainbow flags and disregard cultural perspectives. Schools should be doing just the opposite. Inclusion means every kind of person (minus those instigating violence or violating the law) is welcomed and accommodated. Inclusion is about honoring diversity, not creating an atmosphere where we are not allowed to examine differences.
Inclusion means we respect all cultures. Inclusion means that those with physical challenges have access and opportunity. Inclusion means all parents and children are welcome. Inclusion means we teach about differences, so those who don’t fit into neat little gender boxes are not ostracized and bullied. Inclusion means that we honor another person’s experience rather than sending them the message that their experience doesn’t matter. School boards can’t claim to be inclusive if they are not doing these things. By its very definition, if you are only sort of inclusive, you are not inclusive at all.
Contributed Jim Flynn, Director, PEP Early Childhood Plus
[i] NPR, Florida Gov. DeSantis takes aim at what he sees as indoctrination in schools, July 13, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/07/13/1110842453/florida-gov-desantis-is-doing-battle-against-woke-public-schools Accessed February 7, 2023.
[ii] NPR, Florida Gov. DeSantis takes aim at what he sees as indoctrination in schools, July 13, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/07/13/1110842453/florida-gov-desantis-is-doing-battle-against-woke-public-schools Accessed February 7, 2023.
[iii] CNN Politics, DeSantis proposes banning diversity and inclusion initiatives at Florida universities, February 1, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/31/politics/desantis-diversity-inclusion-florida-universities/index.html Accessed February 7, 2023.
[iv]College Board slams Florida officials for comments on African American Studies course, February 13, 2023. College Board slams Florida, DeSantis over AP African American Studies course : NPR Accessed February 16, 2023.
[vi] Ohio State Board of Education abolishes anti-racism and equity resolution passed in wake of George Floyd’s murder, Cleveland.com, October 14, 2021. https://www.cleveland.com/open/2021/10/ohio-state-board-of-education-abolishes-anti-racism-and-equity-resolution-passed-in-wake-of-george-floyds-murder.html Accessed 2/17/2023.
[vii] Ohio school board president to resign after refusing to vote against anti-racism resolution, nbcnews.com.
[viii] News Channel 5, ABC Cleveland, Ohio Board of Education passes resolution to oppose protections for LGBTQ+ students, December 13, 2022. https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/politics/ohio-politics/ohio-board-of-education-passes-resolution-to-oppose-protections-for-lgbtq-students. Accessed February 8, 2023.
[ix] 134th General Assembly. H.B. No. 616. https://search-prod.lis.state.oh.us/solarapi/v1/general_assembly_134/bills/hb616/IN/00/hb616_00_IN?format=pdf
[xi] Louise Derman-Sparks, Julie Olsen Edward and Catherine Goines (2020). Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, Second Edition. National Association for Education of Young Children.