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How can Florida’s schools keep partisanship from muddling the nation’s history? | Editorial
Civic lessons are important, but so are the details in how they are taught.
Adelynn Berry, 12, left, and Danielle Balsamo, 13, pore over issues in a newspaper during civics class recently at Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey. The lesson focused on issues in the presidential election, which was used to boost understanding and interest of seventh-graders.
Adelynn Berry, 12, left, and Danielle Balsamo, 13, pore over issues in a newspaper during civics class recently at Gulf Middle School in New Port Richey. The lesson focused on issues in the presidential election, which was used to boost understanding and interest of seventh-graders. [ Times (2012) ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 3

Florida is considering a rewrite of its civics lessons in the school system, partly in response to Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers, who say that students should be civically engaged and prepared to contribute to their communities. Who can argue with that? An understanding of America’s roots is valuable for every American, as is appreciating the importance of contributing to our democracy. But the trick in defining these academic standards is to convey an accurate record of American history. That requires bringing the most expansive lens possible to the American experience.

The state Department of Education’s draft of revisions includes language that could narrow these critical conversations in the classroom. The public is invited to comment through June 10 in an online survey. We have excerpted several of the proposals, which cover kindergarten to 12th grade, and identified some potential sticking points.

1st Grade: Students will discuss how to respectfully demonstrate patriotism during patriotic holidays. Will the discussion include how a nation founded on the ideal of self-determination does not require that citizens celebrate certain holidays?

2d Grade: Students will identify characteristics of irresponsible citizenship (e.g., disorderly assembly). Isn’t “disorderly assembly” a phrase law enforcement often uses to justify breaking up a constitutionally protected gathering? How will that be handled with second-graders?

5th Grade: Students will explain how the application of checks and balances ... distinguishes the United States constitutional republic from authoritarian and totalitarian nations. Does that requirement imply that America’s system of checks and balances is complete, functional and itself free from abuse?

7th Grade: Students will describe how religious ideas ... influenced America’s founding ideals. Many of the country’s founders practiced deism, a belief that a supreme being created the universe, but then was absent from the world. They followed a philosophical belief in human reason as a reliable means of solving social and political problems. Will that be included in the curriculum?

Grades 9 through 12:

Students will examine situations when individuals’ rights have been restricted for the public good (e.g., limits on speech or rationing of goods during wartime, enactment of the Patriot Act). Will the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II be taught? How will opposition to the Patriot Act by Democrats and Republicans be handled?

Students will identify various forms of propaganda (e.g., plain folks, glittering generalities, testimonial, fear, logical fallacies). What is propaganda, and who decides?

Students will analyze the disadvantages of authoritarian control over the economy (e.g., communism and socialism) in generating broad-based economic prosperity for their population. Will this include examining the limits of market economies to serve the needs of large swaths of their populations?

Students will explain how United States foreign policy aims to protect liberty around the world and describe how the founding documents support the extension of liberty to all mankind. Does that aptly describe how America has balanced the promotion of liberty with its own interests in Iran, Central and South America, the Pacific or other places throughout history?

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The purpose of the state’s efforts to rewrite the guidelines is to both instruct students on American civics and to encourage them to act. Every Floridian has a stake in what happens in the school system and an interest in getting this delicate initiative right.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.