Florida schools board considers barring critical race theory

Race in America

MIAMI, FLORIDA – JUNE 07: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference held at the Florida National Guard Robert A. Ballard Armory on June 07, 2021 in Miami, Florida. The governor had the press conference to speak about two bills he signed to combat foreign influence and corporate espionage in Florida from governments like China. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the state Board of Education on Thursday to prohibit so-called “critical race theory” from being taught in Florida’s public schools.

Addressing the board by video, the Republican governor said students should be served with fact-based curricula, not “not trying to indoctrinate them with ideology.”

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, contentious discussions about race have been taking place in many sectors of American public life. Classrooms have long been one battleground, and lawmakers in Republican-led states have moved to narrow what can be taught about the country’s sometimes tumultuous history.

At least 16 states are considering or have signed into law bills that would limit how schools frame American history.

Critics say a national effort by conservatives to limit what is taught in schools risks politicizing classroom instruction by limiting the points of view allowed in classroom discussions. Supporters contend that federal law has preserved the unequal treatment of people on the basis of race and that the country was founded on the theft of land and labor.

State law requires schools to provide instruction on a host of fundamentals, including the Declaration of Independence, the Holocaust and African American history — topics that have often been muddled. Current events, including the killings of Black people by police, has further intensified debates.

During his brief appearance before the school board, DeSantis called it “outrageous” how some instructors are deviating from what he and others consider the fundamentals of history.

“Some of this stuff is, I think, really toxic,” DeSantis told the school board. “I think it’s going to cause a lot of divisions. I think it’ll cause people to think of themselves more as a member of particular race based on skin color, rather than based on the content of their character and based on their hard work and what they’re trying to accomplish in life.”

The Florida Education Association called on the board, many of whose members were appointed by DeSantis, to reject the proposal.

“Students deserve the best education we can provide, and that means giving them a true picture of their world and our shared history as Americans. Hiding facts doesn’t change them. Give kids the whole truth and equip them to make up their own minds and think for themselves,” Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in a statement earlier this week.

The association, which represents teachers across Florida, called on the board to at least strip inflammatory language from the proposed rules. A particular sore point is the use of “indoctrinate” in the rule, which the union says presents an overly negative view of classroom instruction.

In his remarks, DeSantis made specific reference to the 1619 Project, a classroom program spawned by a New York Times project that focuses on teaching about slavery and African American history. The project’s name refers to the year popularly believed to be when slaves were first brought to colonial America. DeSantis charged that the teaching included in the program distorts U.S. history by contending, he said, that the American Revolution was instigated to preserve slavery.

The journalist behind the project, Nikole Hannah-Jones, is in the center of controversy swirling at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill because of the university’s decision not to grant her tenure.

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