Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to eliminate critical race theory (CRT) from Florida’s K-12 curriculum in a May 24 speech at Florida International University as part of his Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative, a $116 million program focused on a foundational knowledge of civics and modern government systems.
CRT is a framework for legal analyses developed by scholars in the 1970s, according to the American Bar Association. At its core, CRT dictates racism is a social construct that exists not only in individual people but can be found embedded in our legal system and government policies.
DeSantis’ use of the term “critical race theory” is a manipulative tactic to scare parents into accepting his propagandist curriculum. This dangerous precedent of historical censorship will reach the collegiate level if we do not take action to modify his initiative for public schools.
He has characterized CRT as a classroom epidemic, remarking in his FIU speech that schools have become “indoctrination factories” which “put a political agenda under the guise of history and civics.” But USF associate professor of sociology Will Tyson said he hasn’t witnessed any attempts at “indoctrination” in his time as an instructor.
“I’ve taught race and ethnic relations as an undergrad course at USF probably over 20 times in the 16 years I’ve been in sociology at USF. I’ve probably mentioned critical race theory once or twice ever in my class,” Tyson said in a May 28 interview with The Oracle.
“In general, within sociology, it’s a topic your top scholars in race write about and are familiar with. It’s not something that’s being taught to third-graders.”
DeSantis’ mischaracterization of this issue has created a villain in academic discussions, one he claims to destroy with his Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative. He pitched the initiative as a “nonpoliticized” view of our nation’s history and a “high-quality civics education” with the intent of making Florida a national leader in education.
While he hasn’t provided specifics as to how his curriculum will help students view history in a nonpoliticized manner, SB 1450 and HB 5 in the Florida Congress are drafted using similar rhetoric as DeSantis. HB 5 passed unanimously in both the House and Senate in April with zero pushback from legislators. But the curriculum these bills are touting censor our nation’s complex history under the guise of “historical fact.”
Included in these bills are revisions to the high school social studies graduation requirements, almost all additions to the curriculum. One such addition is the “Portraits in Patriotism Act,” which requires that classes include “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies.”
Another notable addition is that U.S. government classes must include “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.”
None of the other additions in this bill are as specific as these two, and none make any mention of educating young students about victims of our own American ideology.
Tyson said he believes politicians have been shifting perspectives in history classrooms to reflect well on leadership and quell questions that may lead to criticism of those in power.
“[Policy makers have] used that [CRT] as a bogeyman for a lot of other things they don’t want,” Tyson said. “They don’t want the history of the country to be pulled from the perspective of people for whom American history has not been favorable. They want to eliminate the use of slave narratives as a way to sell the lead up to the Civil War. They don’t want to use the narratives of sharecroppers to reflect what happened during the Reconstruction.”
The erasure of these historic perspectives sets a dangerous precedent, threatening the slow erosion of critical thought that can easily spread into other disciplines and higher education.
Those in defense of DeSantis’ ideas are clamoring for a stronger civics curriculum that better educates students on this country and its laws.
This desire is not unfounded. An August 2020 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center revealed only half of the surveyed 1,009 American adults were able to name all three branches of government. Proponents of DeSantis’ curriculum believe it will remedy this with a shift of focus from history to modern government, removing politics from the equation.
It cannot be denied that a stronger civics education is a necessity. Children should complete compulsory school with a working knowledge of our government, but removing key elements of our history is as political as adding elements in.
DeSantis’ signature on these bills and initiatives would be a step backward and a disservice to not only the children who will receive half-baked history educations, but to those who suffered under some of our history’s harsher realities. He would deprive future generations of the ability to learn from our mistakes.
This discussion comes at a time when universities like USF are making more moves toward inclusion and celebrating diverse perspectives. In December, President Steven Currall created a new diversity and inclusion advising role and seeks to add racial education classes, like Racism in American Society or AMS 3700, to USF’s required undergraduate curriculum, according to a December article from The Oracle.
Universities like USF, with hundreds of faculty with decades of experience in complex topics under their belt, have the ability to do justice to these complex issues. Our history, vast and tangled as it is, deserves to be expanded upon. Give students a holistic understanding of our history in high school and include it in the core college curriculum.
Politicians shouldn’t decide what is and isn’t a part of Florida’s civics curriculum. Policy makers are going to curate facts to benefit their political interests. We need a strong understanding of civics blended with a history curriculum that reflects a well-rounded view of our nation, not just that of the victors.