Commentary

The casualties are piling up from the Republican Party’s War on Knowledge

The GOP has adopted a strange definition of ‘freedom’

January 31, 2022 7:00 am

Apparently the less our kids know about this sort of history the better. Credit: State Archives of Florida

OCCUPIED TALLAHASSEE — Just in time for Black History Month, Florida’s dimmer bulbs — you know them as the state Legislature and their salad-brained co-religionists — mean to clamp down on educators who dare tell the truth about racism.

Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. of Hialeah is convinced someone somewhere is teaching white kids to hate themselves.

Not that he has any evidence that such a thing is happening — because it isn’t — but says some senators heard some stuff from “individual parents,” and, by God, that’s proof enough for him.

Florida’s school system already faces critical teacher vacancies and shortages, exacerbated by high pandemic case numbers and low pay: Nationally, Florida’s average salary for public school teachers ranks in the bottom 10 percent, down there with Mississippi and South Dakota, though to give him his due, Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to push for higher starting pay for Florida teachers.

And why would trained education professionals want to work in a state gleefully embracing censorship in the classroom?

Sen. Manny Diaz speaking in the Senate Education committee on Jan 18, 2021. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel

Sen. Diaz is pushing legislation he calls the “Individual Freedom Act,” which is a strange name for a bill that would restrict the freedom to learn real history.

Such as how slavery was the chief economic engine of antebellum America, necessary for the prosperity of the nation.

Or how 400 years of dehumanizing of non-whites has resulted in a playing field so unlevel it resembles the southeast ridge of Mount Everest.

Or how white supremacy fueled the genocide of First Peoples in the name of “Manifest Destiny.”

Diaz’s bill says the U.S. Constitution will be the core of “required instruction,” along with “the history and content of the Declaration of Independence, including national sovereignty, natural law, self-evident truth, equality of all persons, limited government, popular sovereignty, and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property.”

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello used slaves on his plantation. Credit: Wikipedia.

Will teachers be allowed to point out that 41 of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence were slaveholders?

How about that, when Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” he didn’t mean Native Americans (referred to in the Declaration as “merciless Indian Savages”), Black people, or women of any hue?

To be fair, the bill allows for teaching that fosters the “investigation of human behavior, an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity.”

But that part is about Holocaust history, not American history. This dumb bill proclaims, “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.”

None of that “interpretation” nonsense! No asking uncomfortable questions! No exploration of the paradoxes of a nation that congratulates itself for its commitment to equality while enshrining so much inequity.

Along with attempts to zero out the salaries of school board members (most of whom are women), attacks on the University of Florida by DeSantis’ political pimps, and proposals to give parents the power to challenge any lesson by any teacher, this bill is part of the regime’s War on Knowledge.

‘Freedom,’ schmeedom

The governor — who bleats the word “freedom” every time he opens his mouth — actually seems to hate freedom.

Florida teachers can’t discuss gender and sexuality — because, as we all know, even saying the word “gay” will transform a kid into a Friend of Dorothy.

And won’t it be special when parents storm the principal’s office, demanding their children’s delicate ears are never sullied with the facts of evolution or Japanese internment or lynching?

The DeSantis-loving and proudly clueless “Moms for Liberty” are already terrorizing school board meetings.

In Brevard County, a gang of Karens attacked “social-emotional learning” (which promotes creativity, sensitivity, communication skills, and critical thinking) because the training course educators might enroll in once cited a blog post by Ibram X. Kendi (scary Black academic!) on “How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids.”

Obviously, we don’t want to raise anti-racist kids — are you some kind of communist?

Whatever finally happens in the Legislature or in the courts, this aggressive embrace of ignorance and bigotry is already having the desired effect.

A gaggle of outraged Polk County white folks called the County Citizens Defending Freedom are demanding that “pornography” be removed from school libraries.

The late Toni Morrison, winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for the novel Beloved. Credit: Wikipedia.

The “pornography” includes two novels by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison as well as Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” some LGBTQ-affirming books, and a graphic novel called “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier, which contains shocking scenes of adolescents kissing once or twice and also putting on a school play.

A reporter from the Lakeland Ledger asked a member of the CCDF if the Bible should also be consigned to literary perdition, what with it being full of incest (Lot and his daughters), rape (David and Bathsheba, Ammon and Tamar, Shechem and Dinah, etc.), epic drunkenness (Noah, King Elah, and those boozy Corinthians) and straight-up smut (the Song of Songs).

The man got oddly annoyed over the idea.

Joe Gruters

But never fear, that sink hole of stupidity, Sen. Joe Gruters, has a bill to help parents protect their precious darlings from the sick and weird likes of Shakespeare (teenaged sex), Maurice Sendak (naked children roaming around at night), and whatever is going on in “Frog and Toad Are Friends.”

Aided and abetted by DeSantis and his band of the willfully uneducated, the Sunshine State grows increasingly benighted.

On Jan. 22, a historian was supposed to give a seminar on the Civil Rights Movement to Osceola County teachers.

The school district canceled it, frightened that some Republican thug would accuse them of promoting critical race theory.

Professor Michael Butler, author of “Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980,” who was to lead the seminar, said, “It seems to me this whole movement is an attempt to eliminate the Black experience from American history.”

Just another casualty of Florida’s War on Knowledge.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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