Lessons that deal with critical race theory and the “1619 Project” are not welcome in Florida’s public schools following a State Board of Education vote on Thursday.
At the request of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the board unanimously adopted a rule that, in the words of member Tom Grady, emphasizes historical facts over “fiction, projects or theory masquerading as fact.”
Grady offered an amendment that named critical race theory and the “1619 Project” as examples of two well-known educational approaches that would not be acceptable in classrooms.
The theory is a perspective some teachers employ to explain the role of racism and race in American society, in the past, present, and looking forward. The “1619 Project” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series that re-centered the focus on the nation’s history on the year the first enslaved Africans arrived. It uses race as a lens to describe events since.
Grady’s proposal, which the board accepted 5-2, also spelled out more specifically which subject areas would be required beyond the Holocaust, which was the only one mentioned in the original version.
Those include civil rights and slavery. Grady suggested those additions spoke to critics who accused the governor and board of attempting to whitewash history, while at the same time clarifying for teachers what the state expects.
“I think our intent should be clear,” board member Ben Gibson said in support of the amendment.
The action came after more than an hour of public testimony for and against the rule. Residents called for the schools to remove any vestige of critical race theory, which one speaker called “a Marxist tactic to divide our country,” while another deemed the perspective important to understand the nation’s history.
“When people are too afraid to have the conversation, how will we ever progress?” Duval County student Grace May asked the board.
At one point, the room broke into a chant of “Allow teachers to teach the truth!” It prompted the board to take a five-minute break and clear the room.
The public comment and debate came after DeSantis addressed the board remotely, to open the meeting. He laid out his perspective as the board prepared for its widely anticipated action.
Florida must have an education system that is “preferring fact over narrative,” DeSantis told the board.
That means keeping “outrageous” approaches such as critical race theory out of the lessons, the governor said. He listed examples from New York and Arizona as objectionable, and said they should not occur in Florida.
Superintendents across the state have said they do not have that model in their schools. But that did not stop the State Board from considering the rule.
Many teachers protested in the days before the session, saying they do not attempt to indoctrinate their students as the governor and others have suggested, but rather present facts and allow the children to explore the ideas.
Some have said it appears the governor is seeking to keep important lessons about Black history out of the schools in order to paint a partisan “patriotic” vision of the nation.
DeSantis said that’s not the case. He noted that state law requires the teaching of slavery, civil rights and more.
“It is required to be taught, and it absolutely should be,” he said.
Teachers simply must not depart from the historical record to present a narrative that says the nation is rotten, he added.
DeSantis has been calling on schools to keep critical race theory out of schools for several months. His campaign falls in line with a national Republican effort to promote patriotism in civics and history lessons, while suggesting that school initiatives that focus on race and diversity engender hate and divisiveness.
Texas and Idaho are among the other states that have considered legislation barring schools from using the approach in which educators and students analyze U.S. law, culture, and society through the lens of race.
DeSantis was unable to persuade Florida lawmakers to consider such a measure, when he promoted a multimillion-dollar civics initiative. So he looked to education commissioner Richard Corcoran and the State Board to implement a rule that targets the goal.
Some critics suggested that the governor’s effort had little to do with what’s taught in Florida schools. After all, they noted, superintendents across the state have clarified they do not have critical race theory in their curriculums, and it does not appear in the state standards.
“I think it is a political statement,” said state Sen. Janet Cruz, a Tampa Democrat who sits on the Senate Education Committee.
She and others observed that when DeSantis signed a social media oversight bill into law he declared, “Speech that is inconvenient to the narrative will be protected.” He also said, “We cannot have people whitewash the Holocaust in Florida schools” during a town hall meeting which Cruz also participated in.
Yet they get the sense that DeSantis is aiming to keep aspects of Black history out of classes, despite his statements otherwise.
“It is indeed hypocritical,” Cruz said.
Other recent comments have led many observers to conclude that the administration is pushing its own narrative. During a May speech to a conservative Michigan college, Corcoran spoke about the need to “keep all the crazy liberal stuff out” of instructional material.
The Department of Education took steps toward achieving Corcoran’s goal before the State Board met. On Wednesday, it sent a memo to math book publishers, telling them to not incorporate “unsolicited strategies,” such as social emotional learning and culturally responsive teaching, into the next wave of textbooks.
“These strategies are not called for in the specifications because they are not aligned to the B.E.S.T. Standards and, therefore, should not be in your instructional materials,” chancellor Jacob Oliva wrote.
The State Board is scheduled to consider updates to standards relating to civics and Holocaust education in July.
Copyright (c) 2021, Tampa Bay Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.