March 8, 2023

Mercedes Schneider: DeSantis and Education: Sterilizing “Freedom.”

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Teacher, writer and researcher Mercedes Schneider takes a look at just one slice of what has been happening in Florida as Ron DeSantis tightens his grip. Reposted with permission. 

The current ultra-conservative education platform seeks to stifle all formal or informal discussion of diversity, equity, or inclusion in public K12 and postsecondary education, with Florida apparently leading such efforts.

Though as of yet not a formally-declared 2024 candidate, Florida governor, Ron DeSantis is in the GOP polls as an assumed and formidible GOP presidential primary candidate.

DeSantis, and the Florida legislature are working hard to exercise power over what courses or majors could exist in Florida universities, with legislative efforts to kill womens and gender studies and, as the Insider notes, “gut” a variety of majors. Meanwhile, the February 24, 2023, Tampa Bay Times reports that the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) “told school districts to produce detailed information about the programs and materials they use to address some of the state’s most hotly debated subjects.” Continuing:

In an email delivered late Tuesday, the department instructed superintendents to fill out a 34-question survey identifying titles of books and programs they have relating to sex education, social-emotional learning, culturally relevant teaching and diversity, and equity and inclusion, among other topics. It asked for specifics for student courses and employee training.

The department requested names and examples from district and charter schools.

FDOE wants the information by Monday, February 27, 2023, though it did not offer any reason.

The FDOE request came on the same day that Florida HB 999 was filed by Alex Andrade (R-Pensacola). The bill would remove faculty input from the hiring process; prohibit hiring based on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); remove majors and minors related to Critical Race Theory, gender studies or intersectionailty.

This rewrite of the previous bill seeks to remove any mention of “politics,” including striking through statements such as, “Motivate students throughout the Florida State University to become aware of the significance of government and civic engagement at all levels and politics in general”; “Provide students with an opportunity to be politically active and civically engaged”, and “Nurture a greater awareness of and passion for public service and politics.”

Notice what else has been removed: Any hint of encouraging civic engagement or activism:

One goal of HB 999 appears to be creating a passive citizenry that is provided with some information but not any that might prompt the unpleasantness of activism against state-legislated decisions.

To do this, kill any college major, policy, or even classroom discussion that bucks the state’s politically-charged attempt to dictate viewpoint.

As the Insider points out, University of Michigan law professor, Julian Mortenson, tweets about this “breathtaking control of viewpoint”:

DeSantis has already been in the news for efforts to reshape New College of Florida into the image of conservative, private Hillsdale College in Michigan. (Hillsdale is considered a model for “anti-woke” higher ed.)

And if there is any mistake about DeSantis’ seriousness at enforcing his viewpoint-shaping, the very same Andrade who proposed the above HB 999, Politico reports, is also “working with DeSantis’ office” in drafting a bill to curtail freedom of the press, a protection that Andrade frames as “overreach” and a “private cause of action.”

Since all signs point to a DeSantis presidential run, and since he is polling so strongly, America would do well to pay attention to the havoc DeSantis is wreaking on true freedom in the name of authoritarian-enforced “freedom.”

What could happen nationally to K12 and postsecondary education under a DeSantis presidency?

Something that would make his ultra-right, anti-public-school, billionaire funder, former US ed sec Betsy DeVos, deeply satisfied:

The further crippling of American public schools and universities as those who wish to exercise DEI-sensitive hiring practices and pursue majors in the likes of gender and ethnic studies must escape to private schools and universities to do so.

Put the squeeze on public institutions to the degree that private institutions become the viable option foir those who otherwise would have benefited from the public institution.

The endgame of ultra-conservative, authoritarianism-as-“freedom” approach to public infrastructure:

Sterilize and starve the public entity so that those unwilling to toe the line are half-nelsoned into “choosing” the private entity.

Effective leaders do not clamp freedom by the neck, but you know who does?

Dictators. Despots.


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