Florida’s governor and a potential Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election, Ron DeSantis, has drawn a line in the sand that provides a foretaste of what Blacks can expect should voters allow him to gain control of the White House.
DeSantis, in what one school board member described as “an erosion of democracy,” recently banned the teaching of Advanced Placement African American Studies classes in the Sunshine State – the latest move in a pattern of far-right policies that limit education in Florida.
According to ABC News, the Florida Department of Education referred to the history course as “inexplicably contrary to Florida law” that “significantly lacks educational value,” citing the inclusion in the curriculum of Black feminist writers like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw and bell hooks.
Alternatively, the College Board, which is piloting the class in numerous high schools across the country, describes it as an interdisciplinary course that “reaches into a variety of fields – literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography and science – to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.”
In 2021, DeSantis invoked an anti-mask mandate in schools despite the deadly impact of COVID-19. And he has championed legislation and policies that many consider as harsh, even oppressive, including the Stop Woke Act, banning Critical Race Theory, and the Don’t Say Gay Act – which attempts to restrict teaching the topics of race and gender. The state has also placed restrictions on school libraries.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis said during his inauguration speech earlier this month. “Florida is where woke goes to die.”
“We must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideologies,” he added.
Florida Senator Shevrin Jones, 39, born in Miami Gardens, Florida and the first gay person and the first LGBT Black person elected to the Florida Legislature, said people can ill-afford to sit on the sidelines.
“People across the country should be concerned that legislators and governors across the country are going to do exactly what Florida is doing,” Jones said.
Speaking on January 21 with NPR, he pointed to the absurdity of books like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” being among a list of books now under review by state officials which could be banned from use in schools.
DeSantis and his supporters contend that the AP class teachers critical race theory but one of the scholars who developed the curriculum told NPR that it seeks to explore the experiences and contributions of African Americans through various lenses – from the African Diaspora to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond.
Meanwhile, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. labeled it as “woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” tweeting out a list of topics with which he has concerns including intersectionality and activism, Black queer studies, movements for Black lives and the reparations movement.
Critics, including the Florida branches of the NAACP and ACLU, have argued that the course ban is detrimental not only to Black Floridians but to all children seeking a comprehensive education in the state.
DeSantis argues that he’s battling against indoctrination efforts in schools.
But Jones, who vehemently opposes the governor’s latest initiative, agreed with leaders of the NAACP, saying it has implications for all Americans, not just Floridians.
“People across the country should be concerned that legislators and governors across the country are going to do exactly what Florida is doing,” he said. “And we have the potential of raising an entire generation of Black children who will not be able to see themselves represented in their own state or in education.”
“This move offers a glimpse into the tone and tenor of what a possible Ron DeSantis run for president will look like,” Jones added.
But the biggest losers in this political brouhaha will inevitably be the students of today and tomorrow.
The AP African American Studies course in Florida represents a pilot program that came down from College Board which 60 other school districts had already piloted. This writer finds it difficult to understand how so-called intelligent minds can describe the course as a means of indoctrination or as a way of supporting woke ideology.
The American story has many layers – some of them complicated with characters and content that exist far from center. But it would be wrong to edit history so that it is more palpable to those in control.
Some of the things in the course that students discuss include the Black struggle, the Black Lives Matter movement and Black queerness – they’re all part of the story, our story.
We stand at a pivotal moment in public education in America.
It’s a fact that schools offer European history, Spanish history and art history. Why then is there such a push to limit what constitutes African-American history?
This latest move by the DeSantis Administration illustrates just how far he and his right-wing colleagues will go to employ policies as weapons under the veil of individual freedom.
But the fact remains, it’s nothing more than a not-so-subtle attempt to strip away the rights of thousands of students and their parents.
On Wednesday, January 23, a contingency of parents, many of them Black, will travel to Tallahassee, Florida, the state capitol, where they plan to engage in the fight to ensure that our history, Black history, continues to be taught.
Even more, they want to be sure that the lessons taught are factual and that students, regardless of color, have the same experience and opportunity to learn about the history of America and its impact on the rest of the world.
Isn’t that really what education is all about?