Doing the Work: Honesty for Ohio Education
Cynthia Peeples believes that every child in Ohio, regardless of how they look, identify or where they live, deserves a quality education that doesn’t shy away from the hard truths about our history, and teaches them to think critically. Ohio’s kids deserve schools that teach an inclusive curriculum so students of all races and backgrounds can see themselves and their stories reflected in our curriculum.
When certain legislators and their supporters began attacking public education in ways that especially harm already marginalized students across the state, Cynthia came together with like-minded parents from across the state to fight back. Now, as the founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education, she is leading the fight to resist these attacks, which are part of a national extremist agenda that seeks only to drain more public funds from our public schools without concern for the well-being of our young people, our schools or our communities.
Cynthia, of both Korean and American German ancestry, grew up in California and Hawaii. Her unique upbringing nurtured in her a deep understanding of the importance of an honest and equitable education. Growing up in a split household, she was able to gain firsthand experiences of the different opportunities people have based on what they look like, their cultural heritage, or where they live.
When she spent time with her white German American father, she noticed that she was treated differently and experienced more advantage and privilege. When she was with her Korean mother, she experienced racism and prejudice. As a child struggling with her cultural identity and family dynamics, Cynthia learned early that leaning toward her white identity shielded her from hate and discrimination. It wasn’t until she moved to Hawaii, a primarily Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) island chain, that she was able to fully embrace her Asian culture and became unapologetically proud of her heritage and who she is now.
Cynthia has been married to her husband, a Black man, for the past 26 years, and together they are raising three multi-cultural children. Cynthia had noticed that her two older children, who look more, as she says, “exotic,” have different experiences in school compared to her youngest, who has lighter skin. Refusing to accept that her children, and their peers, were destined to bear the prejudices and ignorance of others, she worked to create safe, inclusive environments in every school they attended. This set the stage for her work fighting for honest education in Ohio. In addition to the normalized racialized hate and aggression, she said, “they never saw themselves in the curriculum, or their textbooks…If and when multicultural issues arose in the classroom, they were painfully tokenized and became the single story for an entire culture.”
Cynthia said that it is a personal responsibility for her family to lead this type of work because “not everyone has the opportunity or appetite to — because they have different careers, multiple jobs, and are caring for busy families.”
She also feels called to lead due to her particular experience as an Asian woman: “As a woman, an Asian woman, it is important to be in leadership positions because generationally, and culturally, women have always been told that our role is behind the scenes and inside,” she said. “We need to push back against this sexist, patriarchal mindset and be out front taking charge, whether in a volunteer role or organizational leadership role. Because we tend to be the primary caregivers of families, we need to be lifting our own voices and experiences as multidimensional women. We are the connective tissue that binds our generational history to our future. Women are the storytellers, we give life to families, stories, and movements throughout generations.”
Early on, Cynthia was a news anchor and reporter in Texas, lifting and amplifying issues faced by local communities. She segued into the nonprofit world, and ultimately rooted herself in democracy and civil rights issues. Working closely with the League of Women of Voters and the NAACP, she understood that high-quality education is the bedrock of a high-functioning democracy and the primary instrument of power for any type of sustainable change. These experiences, coupled with growing attacks on education across the nation, led Cynthia to her current position as founding director of Honesty for Ohio Education. Cynthia said that she watched as the national attacks on honest education begin early last year and knew it was only a matter of time before the educational gag orders would be imported into the Buckeye State.
A handful of Ohio lawmakers have now introduced three censorship bills – including an intersectional version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was introduced in April.
Honesty for Ohio Education
Honesty for Ohio Education is a nonpartisan, statewide coalition that champions full and accurate education; affirmation of identities and cultures; the well-being of students and educators; and local control in education. The coalition is a centralized source that educates, advocates, and builds community to protect honest education across Ohio. The organization combats efforts at the Statehouse, the State Board of Education, and local school districts to censor honest education about race, sexuality, identity, and the enduring legacy of systemic, institutional oppression, discrimination and hate. Born from grassroots efforts of students, parents, educators, and organizations including Policy Matters Ohio, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, and the League of Women Voters Ohio, Honesty for Ohio Education now represents more than 40 organizational partners and countless Ohioans across the state. In just under a year, Honesty for Ohio Education went from six people on a weekly zoom call to more than 30 leaders who regularly attend.
As new as they are, the coalition is already making an impact. Had it not been for their efforts, the media would not have covered the impact of gerrymandering on the State Board of Education. Their tireless outreach and activism helped stall three curriculum ban bills.
To learn more about the attacks on education in Ohio and how to get involved, click on the links under each pillar below and visit here to become an Honesty partner. The Honesty for Ohio Education coalition is committed to engaging advocates and supporting student activism.
“The youth and young adult arm of the coalition is integral to the success of the organization as a whole,” Cynthia said. “Our youth have a unique voice that is one of the strongest voices in the room,”
Cynthia and other dedicated advocates in the Honesty for Ohio Education coalition have been relentless when it comes to ensuring that all students feel seen and have a voice. They work daily to combat classroom censorship and attacks on race and identity, especially in the face of a growing youth mental health crisis. When asked why honesty in education is important, Cynthia had this to say:
Protecting honest education is the most important thing we can do right now because education intersects with every aspect of our lives. With the barrage of attacks on education, democracy, criminal justice, reproductive justice and the environment, we must understand the people, power, systems and legacies in place to affect meaningful change.
If you would like to donate to support Honesty for Ohio Education and the incredible work they do across the state, please visit HERE
Honesty Mailing List Join HERE
Honesty Website HonestyForOhioEducation.org
Honesty Events Page
Honesty for Ohio Education’s three advocacy pillars:
State Board of Education
- Demand fair, legal State Board of Education districts — TAKE ACTION
- Protect the Whole Child framework
- Demand new, transparent search process for state superintendent — TAKE ACTION
Local School Districts