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DeSantis Blasts Critical Race Theory, Endorses Rule Changes For History

Colleen Cayoup

The Florida Board of Education is poised to adopt rules that would limit what and how teachers can teach when it comes to civics and history. The proposals are touted as efforts to avoid indoctrinating students on specific ideologies and are part of similar efforts in other parts of the country.

The proposals come amid blowback against recent efforts in some places to expand education around American history. Last September, former President Donald Trump blasted the New York Times’ 1619 project and Critical Race Theory. The 1619 project sought to examine American history through the lens of enslaved people. A classroom curriculum was developed around it and offered to teachers and schools. Critical Race Theory is a 40-year-old idea that examines race and racism and its influence on government practices and policies. It is largely explored in colleges and universities. Both CRT and the 1619 Project have gained more attention in the last few years amid a national conversation on social justice. Supporters say the concepts are important for students to learn. But opponents want limits on what students are introduced to, and when. State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran believes the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory have no place in public school classrooms.

“We’re passing a rule this coming month that says for the 180,000 teachers, you cannot indoctrinate students with stuff that’s not based on our new standards. But you have to police them on a daily basis," he told an audience at Hillsdale College, a conservative liberal arts school in Michigan where he recently gave a speech.

Neither rule proposal specifically mentions Critical Race Theory or the 1619 project.

"It's offensive to the taxpayer that they would be asked to fund Critical Race Theory, that they would be asked to fund teaching kids to hate their country and hate each other," said Gov. Ron DeSantis. in response to question about the concept. DeSantis says he backs the proposed rule changes.

“It needs to be taught in a fact-based way, not an ideological way," he said of History and Civics. "If we have to play whack-a-mole across this state, stopping this Critical Race Theory, we will do it.”

Language in the history rule proposal says instruction should be "factual and objective and not suppress or distort significant historical events” or “define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” It goes on to say discussions should be age appropriate for kids and that teachers shouldn’t share their personal views or “attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view that is inconsistent with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards." The civics proposal has listed differences between responsible and irresponsible citizenship—contrasting peaceful assembly with disorderly protests.

“This notion that…this idea, that in order to be a good citizen you have to follow the rule and do what you’re told. Look at the Boston Tea Party," said Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar.

He says the rule proposals are vague, and contradictory. The question of what kids should be exposed to, and when, is front and center of the debate and it comes as the nation grapples with its history around race and class.

“What teachers most want is for kids to use current events and compare to what’s happened in the past. So You cannot shy away from some of the discussions happening now, especially in our middle and high school classrooms, when you’re talking about U.S. history or civics or government. So I think there is concern about the wording of that rule, for sure.”

The state board of education is slated to take up the rule proposals at its June meeting.

Copyright 2021 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative.
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