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Florida Education Proposal Targets Efforts To 'Indoctrinate'

 Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran sits at a meeting in Tallahassee
Cat Gloria/WLRN
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State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran attends a March 2019 meeting of the state Board of Education at the Capitol in Tallahassee. He is the former speaker of the Florida House.

TALLAHASSEE --- A proposed rule that will be weighed by the State Board of Education aims to control the way history is taught in Florida classrooms and not allow teachers to “indoctrinate” students, as part of what state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran called a "constant, vigilant fight."

The proposed rule seeks to put strict guidelines on teaching U.S. history.

“Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence,” the state Department of Education’s proposal said.

It also would require that any classroom discussion is “appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students,” and teachers facilitating discussions wouldn’t be able to “share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view” that is inconsistent with state standards.

The Board of Education will consider the proposal at its June 10 meeting at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Corcoran touted the proposal during a recent speaking engagement at Hillsdale College, a private college in Michigan that regularly invites conservative speakers.

“You have to police them on a daily basis. It’s 185,000 teachers in a classroom with anywhere from 18 to 25 kids,” Corcoran told the crowd gathered at the event, titled “Education is Freedom.”

The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, opposes the proposed rule.

“Florida isn’t going to equip students as critical thinkers by hiding facts. Students deserve the best possible education we can provide and the truest and most inclusive picture of their world and our shared history,” Andrew Spar, the union’s president, said in a statement Wednesday.

Spar also suggested that other aspects of U.S. history aren’t addressed in the proposal.

“If giving kids a good education is the goal, the rule could be amended to say in part: ‘Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow.’ Those who don’t learn history are destined to repeat it,” Spar said in the statement.

During his Hillsdale College speech, Corcoran fielded a question from an audience member about how he intends to address progressive ideas in textbooks and instructional materials. Part of Corcoran’s response indicated he expects the proposed rule will be adopted.

“We’re passing a rule this coming month that says, for the 185,000 (Florida) teachers, you can’t indoctrinate students with stuff that’s not based on our standards, the new B.E.S.T. standards,” Corcoran said, referring to standards adopted by the state during his tenure.

The “Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking” standards were adopted after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order in January 2019 to eliminate vestiges of politically unpopular “Common Core” standards.

Speaking at Hillsdale, Corcoran characterized the new standards as part of the “fight” to ensure progressive ideas aren’t pushed in the classroom.

“We rewrote all of our standards, we did all of that stuff, and then we do a book adoption,” Corcoran told the crowd. “And the publishers are just infested with liberals. And so we would have to say to them in our bid specs, we are not going to approve your bid unless … a certain percent of our reading list has to be in your text.”

Corcoran’s comments and the proposed rule came amid a push by DeSantis to eliminate what is known as critical race theory from classrooms. Critical race theory is based on the premise that racism is embedded within American society and institutions.

The governor criticized critical race theory during a media appearance in March, while rolling out a “civics literacy” proposal.

“It’s basically teaching kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race. It puts race as the most important thing. I want content of character to be the most important thing,” DeSantis told reporters.

At Hillsdale, Corcoran also said he is working to weed out critical race theory from instructional materials.

“They hide it in … social-emotional learning. So, it doesn’t say critical race theory, but you could definitely have a teacher who teaches critical race theory,” Corcoran said.