Rabbi: Ohio leaders should ensure home-school students aren’t educated with neo-Nazi Telegram content
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A rabbi with a Jewish global human rights organization is calling on Ohio’s political leaders to change laws and regulations to ensure home-school students cannot learn from the neo-Nazi content an Ohio family posted on Telegram
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the content is an attempt to indoctrinate children and that Ohio’s elected leaders should intervene.
Dissident-Homeschool, a Telegram channel that started on Oct. 23, 2021, has 2,600 followers. The channel distributes content that is racist, antisemitic, homophobic and factually inaccurate for home-schooling families. The channel recently was made private, and reporters can no longer see it.
Antifascist researchers known as the Anonymous Comrades Collective in January identified the couple who started the channel as Logan and Katja Lawrence of Upper Sandusky in Wyandot County, who used the names of Mr. and Mrs. Saxon on the channel and on a neo-Nazi podcast.
The content includes handwriting practice sheets with quotes from Adolf Hitler, inaccurate lessons about civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – with an unfounded conspiracy about Jewish people – and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and a math word problem attributing crime to different races.
“What is particularly pernicious in looking at this material is it’s about the indoctrination of children, it’s about starting at an early age where you bring them into a culture of hate,” Cooper said. “We don’t really know, long-range, the impact. We know one thing: If it’s left unchallenged, nothing good will come from it.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a leading Jewish human rights organization in Los Angeles, named after a Jewish Austrian Nazi death camp survivor who dedicated the rest of his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and tracking down people who participated in them. The center tracks hate against Jews, Muslims, LGBTQ people and others. It has a Museum of Tolerance in L.A. and Jerusalem.
Copper said he isn’t against home schools in general, saying many of his friends and family members educate their children at home.
“Every state has its own approach (to education.) It may be a matter of a regulatory change or upgrade,” he said. “But if not, it really does deserve a full discussion of elected officials. If people want their children to be home educated, that’s not really the issue here. If you have a situation where when you look at the curriculum and you know that the curriculum has 2 plus 2 equals 7, someone is going to intervene because there needs to be some basic proficiency.”
However, Ohio has very few laws on home education, and lawmakers aren’t expected to make any more regulations on parents.
Ohio parents who teach their children at home must notify the local superintendent by signing a form and providing an outline of intended curriculum. But neither the state nor local officials verify that the curriculum was followed. Students are not subject to standardized tests to prove they were educated, unless the parent chooses to work with local public schools to seat their kids for the tests, according to the regulations.
And Ohio lawmakers, a supermajority of whom are Republican, appear poised to make home schooling even more difficult to control.
Senate Bill 1, which would overhaul the Ohio Department of Education and would strip most power from the Ohio State Board of Education, includes a provision that would provide home schooling families more protections from state intervention by stating rules would have to be changed by legislation instead of through the state’s rulemaking process.
Cooper worries that children with extremist, racist views may not fit in with other children if they attend extracurriculars or play team sports. That can cause isolation. Some people who are isolated find communities online of other extremists who validate their believes and encourage them to resort to violence, he said, pointing to the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and at the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
“If you say over and over your neighbor is less of a human being or they’re a threat, you’re creating a cadre of young people who have an alternative reality of what’s going on,” he said.
Cooper sees the inaccurate education as a form of child abuse. Adults are imposing their hateful ideologies on children, beliefs which “once brought the world on the brink of extinction – the Holocaust, World War II,” he said.
Cooper said the home-school channel run out of Ohio isn’t the first he’s seen.
“We have been tracking over the years all sorts of suggestions that there should be home schooling for ‘Aryans,’” he said. “This is a recurring theme as part of the goal of building out a separate society, a racist society.”
Racist conspiracy theories come and go into the public consciousness, Cooper said. But they always stay alive on the internet.
For instance, he said anti-Asian sentiment had receded in recent years, until people were looking to blame someone for the shutdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We know that vile conspiracy theories sometimes for years are on life support online and in social media. And then, all of a sudden, you have COVID hit. The next thing you know, Asian Americans are being targeted online. A then couple people go out on the street, beat up Asian Americans, I think in some cases killed a few people,” Cooper said. “Unfortunately, we are no longer talking about the theoretical anymore.”
Laura Hancock covers state government and politics for Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. Read more of her work here.
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