The Fox-MAGA Florida government cannot handle the truth

‘We’re no longer about knowledge; we don’t care about truth.’

May 15, 2023 7:00 am

(Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0/The Daily Montanan).

Let me get this straight: it’s okay for Florida students to be exposed to the non-stop violence on the screen and regular reports of mass shootings at schools and malls, but a book with a gay kid, an analysis of socialism, or mention of the Black Lives Matter movement in class will damage their tender sensibilities?

The state Department of (Mis)Education is not covering itself in glory at the moment, what with it insisting publishers censor, soft-pedal, or bowdlerize social studies textbooks to make them “acceptable” to the dumb-and-proud crowd who rule Florida’s public schools.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz speaks at a post-Hurricane Ian update press conference on Oct. 3, 2022. Credit: screenshot/Florida Channel

Really, someone should investigate Manny Diaz’s reading comprehension test scores. Once again, he’s confusing information with advocacy.

Even after terrorizing editors into removing from their books any mention of George Floyd (God forbid a man whose murder by the police sparked an international anti-racist movement should be discussed in Florida schools) or removing a question about “social justice issues” in the Hebrew Bible, the state still rejected 35 percent of the texts presented, claiming they contained “inaccuracies or ideological rhetoric.”

By “inaccuracies,” the state means stark, fact-based examples of systemic racism. By “ideological rhetoric,” the state means language that does not support Ron DeSantis’ own ideology, which is that America was founded in an excess of virtue and divine favor, and not the product of a messy revolution in which many truly believed in the Enlightenment promise of liberty and justice (for white men only, of course) while others, worried that abolitionism was taking hold in Great Britain, wanted to preserve the slave labor that made them rich. Or some combination of the two.

Baked in

The Fox-MAGA Florida government will not admit that inequality in America is baked into our institutions, from health care to the law to education — even though it’s as obvious as Donald Trump’s fake tan.

Note to the DeSantis regime: Systemic racism is real. Trans people exist. Drag Queens are not a threat. Zygotes are not babies.

Things that are not true: teachers “indoctrinating” kids into “leftism;” the COVID vaccine putting young men at high risk of heart attacks; anything Tucker Carlson has ever said.

Throughout American history, many, many brave people have fought for truth and against lies, prejudice and repression. Surely everyone should be proud of this.

Throughout American history, many, many brave people have fought for truth and against lies, prejudice and repression. Surely everyone should be proud of this.

United States flags blow in the wind. Credit: Getty Images.

But they’re not, especially in the state of Florida. Black Lives Matter, for example. Or athletes who take a knee — which is, according to Republicans, is pretty much an exhortation to overthrow the United States and install a Maoist atheist dictatorship in which the Bible will be banned, or something like that.

A lesson in one elementary school social studies text on “American Symbols” suggested parents discuss the National Anthem with their kids and talk about why some people “take a knee” to “protest police brutality and racism.”

That part has now been removed. Which is a pity, because taking a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a great, peaceful way to call attention to injustice. Nobody gets hurt. And if parents really want to educate kids about American history and national icons, they should explore Francis Scott Key’s dubious lyrics, especially the third stanza about “the hireling and slave,” a disparaging reference to former slaves who won their freedom fighting for the British.

‘Age appropriate’

Last year, the state put the kibosh on a bunch of math books for being “woke,” daring to mention minorities in word problems and weaving sinister elements of social emotional learning into lessons.

Listen to 10 seconds of any Ron DeSantis rant and you can see why he’s uncomfortable with social emotional learning: He has no social skills, he’s emotionally sub-normal, and “learning” is antithetical to his political project.

Now, egged on by the noisome “Moms for Liberty,” the state’s new battle cry is “age appropriate:” as in that book/lesson/image is not “age appropriate.”

15-year-old Elizabeth Eckford is followed by a sullen mob as she attends her first day at Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., on Sept. 4, 1957. She had been prevented from entering the school by the Arkansas National Guard and President Dwight D. Eisenhower was forced to send in U.S. troops to ensure a safe escort for new African American students. The girl behind Eckford and to the left is Hazel Massery. (Photo by FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Not that the “Moms” or any of the dunderheads from the governor’s office can define “age appropriate” — they just mean stuff that makes the parents (not the children) feel mad, scared, or confused. They might, of course, try consulting experts in pedagogy, but they won’t. Trained teachers are now are the enemy.

Suppressing, censoring, or removing educational material is spreading throughout Florida schools like gastroenteritis. Wakulla County recently judged a graphic novel about the Little Rock Nine, the black kids who integrated the Arkansas capital’s Central High School in 1957, not “age appropriate” for school children.

The book is written at a third-grade level and it’s mostly pictures, but one parent complained and the school board decided that the book would be “difficult for elementary students to comprehend.”

I guess I’ve been doing it wrong all these years: I thought teaching was all about helping kids understand what they were reading. I guess it’s much easier to just use the phrase “age appropriate” to ban anything they don’t like.

‘Lefty porn pusher’

Up the road in Leon County, a parent has complained about a children’s book on tennis legend Billie Jean King. In it, King says, “You can’t help who you fall in love with.”

Turns out BJK is married to a lady! Children must never find out!

Even if some of their friends actually have two mommies.

I recently wrote a piece on banned books for Flamingo Magazine, irritating a staunch admirer of “Moms for Liberty” who got her knickers in a twist over the books “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson. She called them “pornographic instruction manuals on how to have gay sex” and me a “lefty porn-pusher.”

Dawson and Kobabe are award-winning authors loved by teenagers who feel seen by these books. Librarians (remember, they’re professional pickers of books for educational purposes) have supported Dawson and Kobabe’s work as exploring identities outside the DeSantis regime’s favored straight, white, Christian categories.

But Florida has decided to institutionalize ignorance and fear everywhere. A Publix bakery in Orlando recently refused to write “Trans People Deserve Joy” in icing on a cake. They were OK with the “deserve joy” part but apparently they were scared they were taking a “political position.”

Teachers are leaving

Or that the DeSantis Pastry Police would come bursting in.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill now forbids any discussion of sexuality or gender orientation up through the eighth grade, and the State Board of Education has voted to extend the prohibition through the 12th.

Teachers, scholars, and librarians are leaving — if they aren’t fired first. At New College, our once-celebrated liberal arts college, the junta that runs the place fired Helene Gold, associate dean of academics and the college’s librarian, three weeks before the end of the semester.

The ruling junta at New College gave “reorganization” as the reason. No doubt it’s the merest coincidence that she is LGBTQ+.

New College is the template for what is happening all over Florida in all levels of education. We’re no longer about knowledge; we don’t care about truth. We’re with stupid.

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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. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo.