First, I’ll point out the obvious: Gov. Ron DeSantis is a bigot. There are those who deem the governor as also being racist, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying, nah — he’s just a bigot. And an unabashedly proud one at that.
The problem is that DeSantis’ blatant bigotry is disruptively and negatively impacting teachers in Florida’s increasingly draconian public education system.
Now before anyone begins labeling me, bear in mind that the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the term “bigot” as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is the very definition of Ron DeSantis.
Fortunately, the governor’s so-called “War on Woke” is going about as smoothly as what he perceives to be Russia’s “territorial dispute” with Ukraine. The latest from the who-didn’t-see-this-coming file comes via the College Board.
The board maintains that unless Advanced Placement Psychology is taught in its entirety — a course taken by 28,000 Florida students last school year — college credit won’t be granted. Naturally, the course includes foundational sections on gender identity and sexual orientation; however, newly enacted state law makes illegal any discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in K-12 classrooms ... well, you see the problem. The board’s warning has resulted in school districts — Pinellas and Hillsborough among them — pulling popular AP Psych courses from their offerings.
But wait! Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. now says AP Psych can, in fact, be taught, including the essential sections on gender identity and sexual orientation. How? Diaz won’t say. So, pretzel logic being what it is, the course is no longer an option, a sad and avoidable loss for students.
On the one hand, DeSantis rails against indoctrination in public schools; on the other, his Department of Education recently approved use of far-right education platform PragerU, which proclaims itself an alternative to an alleged — but completely unsubstantiated — progressive mindset permeating Florida schools. PragerU’s founder, a conservative talk show host, boastfully admits his company “bring(s) doctrines to children.” As such, his company offers a range of video lessons disputing climate change and includes titles like “Was the Civil War About Slavery?” and “The Inconvenient Truth About the Democratic Party.”
Things were humming along just fine in Florida schools until the governor began scoring political points pandering to his base. But targeting a small group of vulnerable LGBTQ+ students, kids who are already struggling physically and emotionally, is just plain mean. Isn’t it enough these students have to deal with adolescent bullying without being callously traumatized by adult leadership from a government they’re asked to respect? And the expectation is that educators are to merrily go along with this abuse?
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In my freshman General Paper class, we banter about current events as part of the curriculum. LGBTQ+ issues, diversity, equity and inclusion, and the ways in which bigotry and racism plague modern culture, are topics that have been and will remain on the table.
Erring on the side of law-breaking caution, Hillsborough County this week told educators not to cover Shakespeare’s plays in their entirety — only select sections — given the Bard’s tendency toward boisterous bawdiness. Shakespearean plays I teach are indeed replete with copious copulation, cross-dressing, rape and prostitutes aplenty, but come on — it’s freakin’ Shakespeare!
Now, it seems, we teach at our peril.
Vice President Kamala Harris was among the many who recently slammed Florida’s adoption of guidelines that attempt to put a positive spin on slavery by claiming that during their captivity, “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” DeSantis subsequently challenged Harris to come to Florida for a debate on the wording. (Slavery is barbaric. Period.) I’ll gladly make the same offer to the governor — come to my school and debate me on how your educational policies are benefiting students.
I double-dog dare you. I’m easy to reach but won’t hold my breath.
Chris Fulton teaches Cambridge Literature/General Paper classes at Tarpon Springs High School. He has been in the classroom for more than 25 years.