Ron DeSantis pushes education in Florida much further to the right
In the following sentence, any vagueness inspired by this sweeping statement is dispelled.
“As such,” it said, “our institutions will not fund or support any practice, policy or institutional academic requirement that enforces belief in critical race theory or related concepts such as intersectionality.” If Critical Race Theory (CRT) were taught, the statement continued, it would be included “as one theory among many and in an objective manner.”
Yes, university presidents assured the public that they would steer their institutions away from the CRT, an academic regime that explores, among other things, how racism is embedded in government and social systems. They did this not because the CRT had somehow been academically discredited, but rather because it became a center of right-wing criticism after the renewed focus on race issues that began there. several years ago. Opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement became an alarm that issues of racial inequality were being taught to children. It has become – with some apparent inducement – an attempt to portray educators and liberals as politically brainwashing children.
And nowhere was the decline as drastic or marked as in Florida.
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The statement by the presidents of the Executive Board was not made in a vacuum. They did not collectively review the CRT material and determine that it was inappropriate for their students to consider. Instead, the statement followed a letter sent to schools by the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), demanding “a full listing of all campus staff, programs, and activities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion—commonly referred to as DEI initiatives—” and critical race theory. In addition, the list requested by the Governor’s Office must be accompanied by demarcations of the number of employees and the funding required for each. The threat was clear.
Following the release of the college presidents’ statement, the state Department of Education — which falls under the jurisdiction of DeSantis — issued a full political press release to celebrate.
“Today, the presidents of the Florida College System (FCS) publicly endorsed Governor Ron DeSantis’ vision of higher education, an environment free from indoctrination, an environment open to the pursuit of truth, and a culture of intellectual autonomy for all students. it reads. “FCS presidents released a joint statement at the Florida State Board of Education meeting rejecting the progressive agenda of indoctrination in higher education and pledging to remove all waking positions and ideologies by February 1, 2023.”
In a quote in the press release, the state education commissioner celebrated that he had promised education “free from indoctrination and awakened ideology”.
This back and forth was a microcosm of how DeSantis was trying to overhaul education in the state, a broad effort aimed at all academic levels. To do this, he signed new legislation into law – but also used, as here, the implied powers of his office.
For younger Floridians, there have been several changes since DeSantis took office. One of the most publicized battles of his first term was his advocacy of legislation restricting discussion of same-sex relationships — a bill that came to be known by critics as “don’t say gay.” . As Bill’s language softened as he walked to his office, the rhetoric around him hardened; a spokeswoman for DeSantis described opponents of the legislation as proponents of preparing children for sexual abuse.
DeSantis also advocated for the passage of a bill called the “Stop WOKE” bill, a reference to a popular pejorative reference to issues of race or political issues perceived as leftist. (Or, in Florida, referring to anything DeSantis dislikes.) This led her administration to celebrate her rejection of a number of elementary math textbooks that she claimed contained elements of CRT — though it soon became apparent that most of the rejected manuals no anything near the CRT.
The state’s Department of Education (DOE) has also rolled out a new DeSantis-backed civics curriculum. Last summer, a number of teachers were trained in the new curriculum. Some who spoke to reporters (and provided slides of the training) noted that the program prioritized conservative political views, even as it attempted to mitigate the country’s former slavery.
“Every lesson we teach is based on history,” the Department of Education (DOE) said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, “and not on ideology or indoctrination of any kind.”
It was reported this week that the DOE rejected an advanced placement program for African American studies that had been in development for more than a decade by the national organization that creates the AP programs. The state argued that it “lacks educational value”. The state still offers an AP program in European history.
DeSantis pushed to overhaul the education system in other ways as well. He endorsed a string of nominees for school boards last year and continued his success with a plan to empower conservative school boards. Shortly after the approved candidates took their seats, a number of educators and administrators who had supported Covid-19 precautions began firing. The DOE also formed a group with conservative activists to create standards that would be followed before school librarians could purchase new books.
Last summer, The Washington Post reported on DeSantis’ efforts to reshape higher education in Florida — and the concerns of college professors.
“Governor Ron DeSantis has signed into law changing the tenure system, removing Florida universities from generally accepted credentialing practices and making “annual diversity of opinion surveys” mandatory for students and faculty,” write Susan Svrluga and Lori Rozsa. Their article also quoted a Florida Atlantic University Lecturer: “It is no exaggeration to say that the DeSantis administration poses an existential threat to Florida higher education.
The compliant announcement of the 28 colleges in the state is certainly a reflection of the pressure from the administration. But in recent weeks there has been a more direct effort to reshape education. DeSantis appointed six new trustees to the board of New College of Florida, a public liberal arts school known for its progressive approach to education. Among them was Christopher Rufo, the writer and activist who helped make anti-CRT rhetoric mainstream, even as he actively diluted the meaning of the concept.
“We hope that New College of Florida will become the classic Florida college, more in a Hillsdale sense [College] South,” DeSantis’ chief of staff told the conservative Daily Caller. Hillsdale is one of the nation’s premier conservative educational institutions.
Taken as a whole — or really even considering just a handful of examples — the direction of DeSantis’ efforts is clear. The governor hopes to weed out discussions of race and sexuality in favor of right-wing rhetoric and agendas. It is taking steps to expand its ability to do this at a local level.
And he’s doing it, even as he remains one of the top contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — potentially landing a job that would put him in control of the federal Department of Education.
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