June 5, 2023

Guillermo Stephens: I Teach in Ron DeSantis’ Florida—Parents Don’t Read the Books They Ban

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Guillermo Stephens talks about what it’s like to teach in DeSantis Florida.

Iam a public school teacher in Ron DeSantis‘ Florida, a title that is not worth very much in my state these days.

Like most in my profession, I am passionate about my work, and as an English teacher, I enjoy reading with students and helping them hone their writing skills, especially on the creative side.

It can be challenging to accomplish this when constant use of technology, a strong disdain towards reading, and apathy towards writing cause students to zone out in a mostly unmonitored space of their own.

That is a recurring battle teachers like me deal with. Day in and day out, we work wonders to get students on board with what needs to be taught.

But as a teacher in DeSantis’ Florida, the cards—and the law—are stacked against me. The Governor of Florida has decided to make the teaching profession a political issue, and books are the forever victim of his anti-woke agenda.

Challenges of books have become widespread in the state.

In many cases, challenges and book bans happen because parents don’t even bother to read or learn for themselves; they go with the political flow but fail to see how the times, they are changing.

Meanwhile, politicians like DeSantis are all too willing to oblige and whip up their base, just so long as you remember to vote for them in the upcoming elections.

In the long run, the future of this nation will suffer from DeSantis’ agenda in Florida. This agenda is spreading to other states and has become difficult for educators to teach around.

Even to student works themselves feel dangerous in this environment.

This school year, I decided to try something different to motivate my students to get more involved with enhancing their writing skills. I tasked them with creating a retelling of Hamlet, giving them a chance to use their imagination and incorporate the themes discussed.

The result was overwhelmingly positive, as I received and read almost 125 original stories. I enticed my students even more by telling them I would select 21 stories and assemble them in a book. My job would be to sit down with each student-author and help edit and improve their piece. They were excited to participate in this project and enthusiastic to see how it progressed.

But then, I submitted the final version of the book to the school principal and explained its context. I had a bad feeling that this student-authored book would fall victim to DeSantis’ “anti-woke” law, that my students would be silenced because someone could be angered, offended, or even worried about what their child is writing about in school as if these same students aren’t living through the same themes that are prevalent in a Shakespearian play.

I feared that the book would not be allowed to see the light, that my students would suffer disappointment, and that DeSantis’ law would have affected and censored those he sought to protect.

Luckily, things turned out fine, and the project was not challenged or silenced.

I imagine what it will be like when someone walks into my classroom, looking to inventory my small but interestingly curated library.

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