Few people in politics today are more drunk with power than Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor punishes companies that disagree with him, attacks people for living their lives, and suspends democratically elected officials for failure to enforce his favorite fascist policies. Like many a conservative in 2022, DeSantis also hates the idea of kids learning that American history involves a lot of unsavory business, usually on the part of white people. Which is why he’s started a new initiative that involves straight-up lying about the country’s past to Florida’s school children.
Multiple news outlets have reported that Florida teachers who’ve attended conferences held by the Florida Department of Education this summer, as part of a “civics excellence” initiative unveiled by the governor last year, have been deeply disturbed at what they’ve seen. According to the Tampa Bay Times, throughout the sessions, facilitators have attempted to downplay the history of slavery in the U.S., and insist that of all the slave-owing nations, the U.S. was the least into it. Tatiana Ahlbum, a 12th-grade government and economics teacher at Fort Lauderdale High, said it was stressed that the majority of enslaved people in America had been born into slavery, that the colonies bought fewer enslaved people from the transatlantic slave trade than has been previously portrayed, and that less than 4% of enslaved people worldwide lived in America, without noting that that percentage still constituted millions of people. Ahlbum told the Times that it felt like the instructors were trying to claim America had been “less bad” when it came to enslaving people, which certainly appears to be the case! Meanwhile, another slide reportedly quoted George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as saying they wanted to get rid of slavery, while crucially leaving out the fact that both men enslaved people, with the latter owning more than 600 in his lifetime and also famously raping at least one of them. Ahlbum added that few of the facts presented included cited sources. “We were not told which documents stated this or how to find them, just that they existed,” she said.
Elsewhere during the workshops—which, according to Times, were “developed” with the input of Hillsdale College, a private Christian college in Michigan, and other groups including the Bill of Rights Institute, which was founded by arch-conservative Charles Koch—teachers were reportedly informed that that whole “separation of church and state” business? The founding fathers didn‘t actually mean that. Incredibly, several slides reportedly stated that this is a major “misconception.” During a breakout session, presenters reportedly mentioned, more than once, “the influence Jesus Christ and the Bible had on the country’s foundation.” Richard Judd, a Nova High School social studies teacher, told the Times, “There was this Christian nationalism philosophy that was just baked into everything that was there.” He added that “ending school prayer was compared to upholding segregation.” Barbara Segal, a 12th-grade government teacher at Fort Lauderdale High School, was also disturbed by the emphasis on Christianity, telling the Times: “It was very skewed. There was a very strong Christian fundamentalist way toward analyzing different quotes and different documents. That was concerning.”
The news of these conferences, which are voluntary, comes months after DeSantis signed a bill banning public schools and private businesses from making white people feel bad during lessons or training about discrimination. (Democrats have said it basically equates to censorship and will lead to frivolous lawsuits.) DeSantis’s bigoted “Don’t Say Gay” bill also recently went into effect, prohibiting any talk of gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, and such discussions through high school if they are not done in a manner that is “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
“It is disturbing, really, that through these workshops and through legislation, there is this attempt to both censor and to drive or propagandize particular points of view,” Judd, the social studies teacher, told the Times.
In other DeSantis news, on Thursday, he suspended Hillsborough County state attorney Andrew Warren for declining to enforce a potential ban on gender reassignment for minors or Florida’s prohibition on abortions after 15 weeks. Despite the fact that prosecutors regularly pick and choose which cases they want to take to trial, DeSantis claimed, “The role of the state attorney is to apply the law and enforce the law, not pick and choose which laws you like and which laws you don’t like. This is a law and order state. We’re not going to back down from that one inch. We’re not going to allow locally elected people to veto what our state has decreed through our legislative process.” In response, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for governor, called the governor “a pathetic bully.” Which feels…entirely accurate!