Category Archives: Education / Youth

Is Florida the Fourth Reich?

A couple of weekends ago,  Nazis demonstrated in Orlando. According to media reports, they screamed antisemitic slogans and threats against Blacks and Hispanics, waved swastikas, and assaulted a couple of people who stopped to argue with them.

According to Newsweek, Twitter users posted videos of the neo-Nazi rally and reported the slurs.

And a Florida resident posted to Daily Kos, 

In addition, the Nazis protested at several overpasses on I-4 toward Disney, with Nazi flags and a large “Let’s Go Brandon” sign with swastikas. Another one said, “Vax the Jews.” This protest followed another one in Mount Dora earlier. The fact is that antisemitic incidents in Florida rose by 40% since 2020. The undeniable rise of antisemitic demonstrations in Florida even got Sen. Rick Scott’s attention, and he condemned them in a tweet. Democrats, including the candidates for governor and senator, strongly condemned the Nazis. However, the two incumbents they are running against, Ron DeSantis and Marco Rubio, have remained silent. 

It’s bad enough that DeSantis refused to condemn the demonstrations; his spokesperson was worse. She tweeted “How do we even know they’re Nazis?” and suggested they might  have been Democrats “pretending.”

If this were a one-off, DeSantis’ silence could be attributed to oversight, overwork…something. But no one who has followed DeSantis and his enablers in the Florida Legislature is likely to give him the benefit of the doubt. (There’s a reason The New Republic made him their “Scoundrel of the Year.”)

A Miami newspaper recounted “Eight Times DeSantis ‘Accidentally’ Did Racist Stuff.”That article was written during DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, and started as follows:

After enough racism scandals involving a particular political candidate, you’d think everyone might just admit that person is simply racist. Yet a whole lot of people — from bad-faith conservative pundits to easily fooled reporters — continue offering excuses for Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’ infamous statement on Fox News that Andrew Gillum would “monkey… up” Florida.

At best, that gaffe implies DeSantis, who is a seasoned lawyer with degrees from Harvard and Yale, is so ignorant he doesn’t know it’s a really bad idea to use the word “monkey” when talking about a black person.

But claiming his use of the word was a simple accident is also hard to believe because DeSantis has a clear, repeated pattern of making offensive and/or outright racist statements, hanging out with racists, and defending other people who are also racists. It’s past time that DeSantis — long considered the most right-wing Florida congressman who is running on a platform of fealty to Donald Trump and pure anti-immigrant bile — lost the benefit of the doubt.

The article enumerated the reasons DeSantis isn’t entitled to the benefit of the doubt: among other things, he spoke at a Muslim-bashing event alongside Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon, defended a supporter who advocated”bringing back the hanging tree,” leveled a slur at AOC’s ethnicity, and was moderator of a Facebook group that was a haven for racist memes.

Since he’s been governor, of course, he has worked hard to out-Trump Trump. His anti-vaccination, anti-mask, anti-mandate efforts have received wide publicity, but those efforts are arguably not targeted at minorities–they’re unforgivably dangerous to the health of all Florida citizens (especially the elderly, and Florida has more than its share of elderly folks.)

Other measures are more clearly bigoted.

 DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature have joined the campaign  against what DeSantis calls”woke” schools. As this Washington Post article describes it:

As part of the “stop-woke” agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Florida lawmakers are now considering bills that would allow almost anyone to object to any instruction in public school classrooms. DeSantis wants to give people the right to sue schools and teachers over what they teach based on student “discomfort.” The proposed legislation is far-reaching and could affect even corporate human resources diversity training.

While the legislation mirrors national efforts to ban critical race theory in schools, the debate in Florida has turned especially raw and emotional, a testament to how central multiculturalism is to the state’s identity. Many parents and teachers — who note that critical race theory is not taught in Florida’s public schools and is already banned under state law — fear the legislation would force teachers to whitewash history, literature and religion courses.

 In Florida, more than 1 in 5 residents are foreign-born and nearly half the population is Latino, Black or Asian American. That might explain DeSantis’ multiple new voting restrictions.

DeSantis and GOP lawmakers have also advanced a bill opponents are calling “don’t say gay.” It would effectively forbid classroom discussions of sexual orientation.

 One proponent of the “anti-woke” bills gives the racist game away: “To say there were slaves is one thing, but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, and with photos, is another.” 

It is indeed.

It’s About More Than Banning Books And Distorting History

Anyone who hasn’t been marooned on a desert island or hiding in a cave for the past few years (options that sound increasingly appealing, actually…) has been inundated with reports of the unrelenting attacks on public school boards, curriculum, gay and transgender students, and the teachers and administrators who dare to stand up for any of them.

We shouldn’t get distracted by the purported targets of these attacks. The specific charges are monumentally phony–the actual aim is to dismantle American public education.

It’s tempting to respond to the absolute idiocy, for example, of claims that the schools are teaching “Critical race theory”–to point out that those leveling that charge couldn’t define CRT if their lives depended on it, and that it is explored (not “taught”) by legal researchers.

It’s equally tempting to point out that the parents “testifying” at school board meetings (actually, threatening school board members) are overwhelmingly the same parents who fail to attend parent-teacher conferences or otherwise involve themselves in the details of their kids’ educations (and those are the parents who actually have children in the system.)

And the effort to ban books, or remove them from the curriculum or the school libraries is ludicrous at a time when virtually all young people carry with them a device that connects them to a vast and dangerous world their parents cannot control.

The real goal of these efforts is to undermine support for the nation’s public schools, in order to make it easier to privatize them. As an article from Common Dreams began

When champions of market-based reform in the United States look at public education, they see two separate activities—government funding education and government running schools. The first is okay with them; the second is not. Reformers want to replace their bête noire—what they call the “monopoly of government-run schools”—with freedom of choice in a competitive market dominated by privately run schools that get government subsidies.

Today, that privatization movement is alive and pushing ahead, with Republican legislators in 16 states actively pushing bills to create or expand school vouchers and/or charter schools that are part of that movement.

The author then interviewed a lobbyist who had worked for the privatization movement; it’s worth clicking through and reading what a former “insider” has to say.

A more recent column in the New York Times, written by a resident of Tennessee, explains why the effort to remove “Maus” from the curriculum is the “least of our worries.” She reviewed the persistent and ongoing efforts of conservatives “trying desperately to insulate their children from the modern world without quite understanding how the modern world works”–and she argued that the new bans–often aimed at books that had been used without incident for decades– are really “a response to contemporary political forces whose true motivation has nothing to do with books. What they really want is to destroy public education.”

She writes that she is willing to give many censorious parents the benefit of the doubt, in the sense that they are deeply conservative and believe they are “protecting” their children. But as she points out,

these parents are being manipulated by toxic and dangerous political forces operating at the state and national levels. Here in Tennessee, book bans are just a small but highly visible part of a much larger effort to privatize public schools and turn them into conservative propaganda centers. This crusade is playing out in ways that transcend local school board decisions, and in fact are designed to wrest control away from them altogether.

I don’t mean simply the law, passed last year, that limits how racism is taught in public schools across the state. I’m talking about an array of bills being debated in the Tennessee General Assembly right now. One would purge books considered “obscene or harmful to minors” from school libraries across the state. Another would ban teaching materials that “promote, normalize, support or address lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) issues or lifestyles.” Yet another would prevent school districts from receiving state funding for undocumented students.

Most of all I’m talking about Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement, in his State of the State address last week, that he has approached Hillsdale College, a Christian institution in Michigan, to open 50 charter schools in Tennessee — Mr. Lee reportedly requested 100— that would follow a curriculum designed to make kids “informed patriots.” Not informed citizens; informed patriots, as conservative Christians define that polarizing term.

What the author calls–correctly–an “existential threat to public education”  is part and parcel of the GOP’s effort to destroy democracy.

As the late political scientist Benjamin Barber explained, public education is constitutive of a public; without it,  democracy is simply not feasible.

To today’s GOP, that’s a feature, not a bug.

 

 

 

 

 

About That War On Education

Evidently, Indiana’s censorious legislature has company–ours aren’t the only lawmakers issuing “gag orders” to educators.

According to a January report from Pen America,

It has been an extraordinary month for educational gag orders. Over the last three weeks, 71 bills have been introduced or prefiled in state legislatures across the country, a rate of roughly three bills per day. For over a year now, PEN America has been tracking these and similar bills…

According to the Pen report, 122 educational gag orders have been filed in 33 states since January 2021. Of those, 12 have become law in 10 states, and another 88 are currently live.

Of those currently live:

84 target K-12 schools
38 target higher education
48 include a mandatory punishment for those found in violation

When Pen looked at the measures that have been introduced so far in 2022, it found “a significant escalation in both scale and severity.”

Forty-six percent of this year’s bills explicitly target speech in higher education (versus 26 percent in 2021) and 55 percent include some kind of mandatory punishment for violators (versus 37 percent in 2021). Fifteen also include a private right of action. This provision, which we analyzed in an earlier post, gives students, parents, or even ordinary citizens the right to sue schools and recover damages in court.

One final feature that is increasingly common to 2022’s bills is how sloppily many are written. Legislators, in their haste to get these bills out the door and into the headlines, are making basic factual errors, introducing contradictory language, and leaving important terms undefined. Given the stakes, the result will be more than mere confusion. It will be fear.

The Pen report then zeroed in on legislation from a single state, in order to help readers “appreciate” the chilling nature of the threat.

That state? Indiana. (I am so not proud.)

With eight bills currently under consideration, only Missouri (at 19) has made a greater contribution. Of the eight in Indiana, all target public K-12 schools, two target private K-12 as well, six would regulate speech in public colleges and universities, four affect various state agencies, and two threaten public libraries. All are sweeping, all are draconian, and few make any kind of sense.

House Bill 1362, sponsored by Bob Behning ( because of course it was), prohibits teachers and professors from including in their instruction any “anti-American ideologies.” What this means is never defined (because of course it wasn’t), but violators may be sued in court.

Pen tells us that House Bill 1040 is even more confusing. That bill requires teachers to adopt a “posture of impartiality” –but also contains the following language:

Socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are incompatible with and in conflict with the principles of freedom upon which the United States was founded. In addition, students must be instructed that if any of these political systems were to replace the current form of government, the government of the United States would be overthrown and existing freedoms under the Constitution of the United States would no longer exist. As such, socialism, Marxism, communism, totalitarianism, or similar political systems are detrimental to the people of the United States.

As the report notes, this would be farcical if the consequences of failure to comply weren’t so dire. A teacher or school  that failed to navigate the whiplash mandated by this effort to ensure that teachers indoctrinate, rather than educate, would–under this bill– face civil suits, loss of state funding and accreditation, and/or professional discipline up to and including termination.

The linked article describes several other, similar efforts, and I encourage anyone who wants to wallow in despair over Indiana governance to click through.

The none-too-savvy legislators pushing these bills are evidently unaware that kids today can easily access multiple sources of information. (There’s this newfangled thing called the Internet.)

Ironically, these legislative efforts that display our lawmakers’ anti-intellectualism and bigotry also motivate young people to access the information they are trying to suppress. After a Tennessee school board censored a graphic novel about the Holocaust, it soared to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list. Young people (and a number of older ones) have rushed to form banned book clubs.

A few days ago, when I threatened to start an online class in “banned history,” the response was so heavy and positive I’m now seriously considering doing so. (Once I’ve done some research and figured out the logistics, I’ll let you all know.)

What we should be teaching students is how to evaluate the credibility of the sources they consult. Efforts to “shield” them from the uglier realities of the past are  likely to spark interest in exploring that past, and it would be helpful to give them the tools to separate sound scholarship from the propaganda produced by both Left and Right.

Several lawmakers could use those lessons too.

 

 

What A Great Idea!

As state legislatures around the country move to censor the teaching of accurate history, a number of people have evidently abandoned the usual opposition tactics–political argumentation and (if those measure pass) lawsuits, in favor of a new and better approach.

I recently came across one such effort by students in Pennsylvania. They formed a student “banned book” club.

Junior high school students in Kutztown created a teen-banned book club to discuss and celebrate challenging stories, discussing both classic novels and current hot topics.

The club’s first meeting, held at the Firefly Bookstore in Kutztown on January 12, was attended by a group of nine young people, primarily from grades 7 to 11 in the Kutztown area.

14-year-old Kutztown 8th grade Joslyn Diffenbaugh founded the club after reading about a public protest to ban books in national and regional schools based on the topics of race, gender identity and sexuality.

Evidently, several communities are seeing the formation of similar clubs; they are entirely voluntary after-school activities, and several meet in public–not school–libraries. They are prompted by a characteristic of teen-agers that is well-known to anyone who has ever parented one: nothing–absolutely nothing– is as alluring to a teenager as something that has been declared off-limits.

The same kid who wouldn’t read a particular book for class will absolutely consume it after being told not to do so.

I especially loved a different, albeit related response from Tennessee.

Following a school board’s ban of Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize–winning graphic novel Maus, Davidson College professor Scott Denham is offering a free online course for eighth- through 12th-grade students in McMinn County, Tenn., where the board voted 10-to-0 to remove the book from use in middle school classes.

“The McMinn Co., TN, School Board banned Spiegelman’s Maus I and Maus II, so I am offering this free on-line course for any McMinn County high school students interested in reading these books with me. Registration details for those students coming soon,” Denham tweeted Wednesday as news of the book’s removal began to circulate online.

The ban, according to minutes from a Jan. 10 school board meeting, stems from eight curse words and a depiction of a nude woman in the graphic novel, which tells the story of the Holocaust by depicting Jewish people as mice and the Germans as cats. The highly acclaimed book is an academic standard and the first graphic novel to earn the Pulitzer Prize.

In fact, that is such an excellent response that I would be willing to round up a couple of former colleagues and offer a similar course in “banned history” for kids deprived of that history should our legislature pass the currently pending “anti-CRT” bill.

The Indiana House has passed HB1134 and sent it to the Senate for consideration.

The bill, which would limit what teachers can say regarding race, history and politics in Indiana classrooms, is nearly identical to a piece of legislation that senators already abandoned after its author said it would require teachers to remain neutral on topics including Nazism, Marxism and fascism and promptly became the subject of national outrage.

The bill lists a series of “divisive concepts” that would be banned from Indiana’s public school classrooms, including those dealing with the superiority/inferiority of “sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation”  or any that might make an  individual student feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish responsibility, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin or political affiliation.”

Rather obviously, if a teacher is teaching about slavery or the civil rights movement, s/he is “dealing with”such subjects. (How a teacher is supposed to tell whether an individual student feels “discomfort” is anyone’s guess….)

The linked article noted the “considerable opposition” to the measure mounted by Indiana teachers. No kidding! I imagine teachers were already getting pretty tired of the legislature’s constant efforts to tell them how to do their jobs, and are understandably hostile to a bill that essentially tells them to revise history and be nice to the Nazis…

If this barely-veiled effort to bolster White Supremacy actually passes, I can think of a number of excellent, accurate history books that might form the core of an online, free, absolutely voluntary class–and might well appeal to teenagers who could be curious about what it is our legislative overlords don’t want them to know.

I don’t have hobbies, and retirement is pretty boring. I’d have plenty of time to replicate that Tennessee professor’s approach….

“Protecting” Indiana’s Children

When Hoosier legislators talk about “protecting children,” they are rarely taking aim at tangible harms. Quite the contrary: in many cases, they are  the harm. (Just this session, Dennis Kruse has authored S.B. 34; it would deny appropriate medical and psychological services to gay youngsters.)

Indiana’s legislature is filled with culture warriors eager to appeal to the GOP’s increasingly  racist base, so I suppose we shouldn’t be shocked when legislators with absolutely no background or expertise in education take it upon themselves to prescribe what shall be taught– and how.

GOP pooh-bas are constantly complaining that reasonable efforts to protect public health are government “overreach”–yet the measure introduced by Representative Scott Baldwin is an absolute monument to overreach–much of it too vague to enforce properly, all of it likely to empower a subset of angry and uninformed parents, and–if passed– likely to drive teachers out of Indiana.

The bill was obviously motivated by the GOP’s trumped-up hysteria over Critical Race Theory (which none of its opponents can define, and which has never been taught in public schools). What opponents of CRT are really against is teaching anything suggesting that racism is bad. Obviously, when proponents of these “anti-CRT” bills accidentally admit that, it causes a bit of an uproar. So Baldwin has had to “walk back” a previous statement.

An Indiana state senator who is facing criticism for saying teachers must be impartial when discussing Nazism is walking back his remarks.

Indiana state Sen. Scott Baldwin said he wasn’t clear when he said a bill he filed at the Indiana Statehouse would require teachers to be impartial in their teaching of all subjects, including during lessons about Nazism, Marxism and fascism.

Baldwin evidently believes that discussions of Nazism, Marxism and fascism should be “fair and balanced.” Like Fox “News.”

During a committee hearing Wednesday about Senate Bill 167, a wide-ranging bill inspired by the national discourse over critical race theory, history teacher Matt Bockenfeld raised concerns about what the bill would require of teachers. He gave what he thought was an extreme example.

“For example, it’s the second semester of U.S. history, so we’re learning about the rise of fascism and the rise of Nazism right now,” Bockenfeld said. “And I’m just not neutral on the political ideology of fascism. We condemn it, and we condemn it in full, and I tell my students the purpose, in a democracy, of understanding the traits of fascism is so that we can recognize it and we can combat it.”

Baldwin’s response was instructive (pun intended):

“I have no problem with the education system providing instruction on the existence of those isms,” he said. “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position on those isms …  We need to be impartial.”

Baldwin said that even though he is with Bockenfeld “on those particular isms,” teachers should “just provide the facts.”

“I’m not sure it’s right for us to determine how that child should think and that’s where I’m trying to provide the guardrails,” Baldwin said.

There is much more that is dangerous–not to mention stupid and offensive–in Baldwin’s bill. (It is discussed in more detail at this link ). The bill is being described as an effort at “transparency,” which is wildly misleading. It would require teachers to post their syllabi and materials so that parents can access (nitpick) them; not only would such a rule be an extra burden on teachers who already have plenty to do, not only would it impose rigidity on what might otherwise be organic discussions (as teachers at the hearing pointed out), it is totally unnecessary.

Transparency already exists.

Parents who supervise their children’s homework, who visit their children’s schools, who show up for parent-teacher conferences, already have access to this information. Those parents, however, aren’t found among the angry anti-CRT, anti-mask activists who’ve descended on some school board meetings. (In several cases, it’s turned out that people in  those groups didn’t even have children in that school system.)

In my experience both as a long-ago high-school teacher and as a parent, teachers are absolutely delighted to share information with parents who are genuinely involved with their children’s education.

I know that today’s Republicans hate “elitists”–defined as people who actually know what they’re doing. The GOP is at war with climate science, dismissive of epidemiologists and medical experts, and convinced that anyone capable of reproducing knows more than classroom teachers who have earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in education.

It’s Indiana’s great misfortune to have a legislature populated with so many walking, talking examples of the Dunning-Kruger effect.