Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis Goes Full Orwell in Recent Education Legislation

Back in September, two months before losing the election to Joe Biden, when Donald Trump was repeating the fallacy either he win the election or it’s “rigged,” Trump announced the formation of the “1776 Commission,” a retaliation against The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” dedicated to chronicling the country’s history beginning the year Europeans shipped the first enslaved Africans to American shores.

In April, Senate Minority Leader Mitch “The Grim Reaper” McConnell led 39 Senate republicans in demanding Education Secretary Miguel Cardona retract a “divisive” education proposal to emphasize history and civics lessons about slavery and Black Americans’ contributions to the country as well as remove the 1619 Project from federal grant programs.

At this very moment, republican-led state legislatures are trying to make sure American schools teach how “great” America is by glossing over the history of slavery, critical race theory, colonialism that led to the Indigenous American holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, and anything else deemed “controversial,” like systemic racism.

Earlier this month, Arizona republicans voted to impose a $5,000 fine on teachers and anyone who “knowingly aids another person” in teaching “controversial” topics.

TexasIdaho, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas have either passed or seek to pass similar legislation.

Last week, Florida joined the list.

Yesterday, Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis went full George Orwell when he signed legislation requiring the state’s public universities’ and colleges’ students, faculty, and staff to register their political views to promote “intellectual diversity.”

This will compel taxpayer-funded educational institutions to implement annual surveys to determine “the extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented” and whether members of the educational community “feel free to express [their] beliefs and viewpoints.”

As the Tampa Bay Times reported, where those survey results go after they’re collected is unknown.

So pedagogical settings that thrive on debate and objectivity are now being asked to check their debate and objectivity for potential conflicts with the state’s rubric for debate and objectivity.

But this isn’t the totality of the bills DeSantis signed.

An additional bill prevents state colleges and universities from exposing students to ideas “they may find uncomfortable, unwelcome, disagreeable, or offensive.”

Another creates a K-12 “portraits in patriotism” civics curriculum contrasting the United States with communist and totalitarian governments.

Of what are republicans so afraid?

Why are they getting their supporters all ginned up about schools teaching students the truth about slavery, four centuries of institutionalized racism, and economic and political models that differ from ours?

If we truly “aren’t a racist country,” what’s the problem?

The problem is, according to the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University director Ibram X. Kendi, the right is panicking over growing racial justice movements after last year’s police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and coalescing in an attempt to reverse the country’s racial awakening.

In an interview with The Guardian, Kendi explained:

“I do think there’s a concerted backlash from people who recognize that this time last year a growing number of Americans were either speaking out against racism or growing an awareness of the problem of racism. That growing awareness has put a spotlight on certain policies and certain ideas and even certain people who have been facilitating systemic racism and so those very people are like, ‘How do we turn off the spotlight? How do we make the problem the people identifying us and our racism as the actual problem as opposed to racism itself?’”

Kendi and journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, who developed the 1619 Project, have become scapegoats for right-wing media outlets like Fox News, and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation.

As charter-school darling Betsy DeVos exploited her position heading the Education Department to weaken public education, Trump’s propaganda campaign was another weapon against educators, predominantly Democrats, who are, according to republicans, “forcing Marxist critical race theory into our children’s schools.”

Although Donald Trump, thankfully, did not win another term, the party that to him has sold whatever it had left of its soul after 40 years of decline is ensuring future Americans are even more ignorant of its racist colonialist past.

If we don’t acknowledge our history we are condemned to repeat it, as George Santayana said.

The history the republican party wants to condemn us to repeat is the white ethno-state it took a civil war to break.

Image credit: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.