I’ve been Mirandized. Anything I say can and will be used against me in a court of law. And I say: Bring it on! Go ahead and make a martyr out of me because my classroom is my turf, and I’ll continue to teach however I damn well please within the blurry parameters of my content area.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ declaration that Florida is the freest state in America leaves out the part about that freedom being a right-turn only, one-way street. As such, things are looking down for foot soldiers doing battle in the state’s educational trenches. Now taboo is any LGBTQ+ discourse, the assumption being that not saying “gay” will make it go away. Then there’s the governor’s union-busting Teacher’s Bill of Rights providing “civil remedies for teachers who are ... punished by their employers for standing up for what is right,” which sounds splendid but raises the basic question: What qualifies as “right”? And who gets to decide? Is it to be DeSantis and his rubber-stamp Legislature?
The governor champions “teaching accurate American history without an ideological agenda.” To that end, he’s established a 50-hour Civics Seal of Excellence course for teachers, the underpinnings of which fly in the face of the constitutional separation of church and state. Sharp-eyed educators who have signed on for the $3,000 dangled carrot-upon-completion say the course has a distinctly Christian fundamentalist, conservative bias. No shocker there since the curriculum was developed in coordination with Hillsdale College, a private Christian liberal arts school in Michigan, and the Bill of Rights Institute, founded by conservative billionaire icon Charles Koch. So much for taking ideology out of the mix.
Are parents to be the arbiters of what is right? Should one parent, or a relatively small group of parents, have the power to dictate whether an acclaimed novel is taught? Parents who believe their precious child isn’t being exposed to the uncensored actualities of modern society via the internet and other forms of media are delusional. Cloistering kids is detrimental if our mutual goal is to produce capable critical thinkers.
Enlightening students as to both sides of any topic is part and parcel of a teacher’s job description; doing so nurtures empathy and allows learners to make informed decisions on where they stand. And those who argue against academic freedom and teacher autonomy are de facto advocates of authoritarianism.
Don’t students have the right to draw conclusions about our imperfect world without the disingenuous whitewashing of America’s sometimes dark, inexcusable history? The essential life lesson that racism and bigotry are morally wrong needs to be served up hot with a warm side of historical context. Selective omission is itself a form of indoctrination and excluding shameful facts as a way of sheltering learners from distasteful truths is as harmful to them as it is to society.
When I teach “Huck Finn” — Mark Twain’s slyly disguised tirade against racism — I do so with a no-holds-barred approach. The fear-mongering tactic of politicizing critical race theory as causing white kids to feel guilty about both their skin color and the abhorrent mistreatment of African Americans and Native Americans by ancestors generations removed doesn’t factor into my educational equation. The premise is patently stupid.
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Just as dumb are efforts to legislate sexuality in all its forms. Because the ignorant endeavors of repressed lawmakers will never supplant the fundamental, unavoidable certainties of human nature.
In Ray Bradbury’s prescient novel “Fahrenheit 451,” books are illegal and burned because the populace has lost interest in reading them in favor of mindless interactive videos and other forms of vacuous entertainment. People willfully swallow alternative facts from their government because they can’t be bothered to work their way to discerning objective realities.
With that in mind, and in view of my imminent arrest by the (lack of intelligent) Thought Police, I’d like to preemptively assert my right to place one phone call:
“Hello? May I please speak with the Founding Fathers?”
Chris Fulton teaches Cambridge Literature/General Paper classes at Tarpon Springs High School. He has been in the classroom for more than 25 years.