Florida should not sanitize history to eliminate the distasteful
Thought Police aim to keep Florida classrooms toeing the party line on US history. The governor and his education commissioner want strict guidelines that match their views. Certainly, no liberal ideas will be heard.
Their primary aim is to block concepts that examine race issues in US history. Since much of this nation’s economy rested on unpaid labor from Black slaves before the Civil War – which was itself a race issue – and deep ethnic divisions remain, that’s going to be quite a distortion. But the governor and his education commissioner seem up to it.
On Friday, the “Thought Police Chief,” Gov. Ron DeSantis, said he had urged the State Board of Education to create new guidelines for teaching US history – a new sanitized history.
The board on June 10 is to consider ordering teachers not to “define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”
Now, while I agree with those principles and you probably do too, they are hardly universal principles. If they were universal, every nation on earth would abide by them and there would be no Thought Police. I wish there were universal agreement, but wishing does not make it so and students should not be told only that it is so.
When the Declaration of Independence was written, “universal” in this nation meant white, educated, male adult landowners. Women, Blacks and Native Americans then were second- and third-class Americans. That’s a shameful reality that no educational system should gloss over. It is a key part of what formed this nation. We should not rewrite history to eliminate the distasteful.
Yet the governor and “Thought Police Lieutenant” Richard Corcoran, whose day job is state education commissioner, aim to be sure that teachers do not “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view” that is inconsistent with state standards. Teachers must be monitored, Mr. Corcoran said: “You have to police them on a daily basis” to make them stick to the historic gospel of standards handed down from on high – “on high” meaning from the state.
History “needs to be taught accurately, it needs to be taught in a fact-based way that is not an ideological-based way,” said Thought Police Chief DeSantis. “If we have to play whack-a-mole* all over the state stopping this critical race theory, we will do it.” In other words, the only ideology should be his ideology. Whack down the rest.
Said Lieutenant Corcoran, “you can’t indoctrinate students with stuff that’s not based on our standards.” It’s fine of course to indoctrinate them with stuff that the Chief and the Lieutenant favor – that, in fact, is the whole idea.
The problem, Lieutenant Corcoran says, starts in school books. “The publishers are just infested with liberals,” he told a college audience in Michigan last week. “And so we would have to say to them in our bid specs [for textbooks] we are not going to approve your bid unless… a certain percent of our reading list has to be in your text.” Translated: let’s just infest the publishers with conservative ideas, which are the only truth.
Apart from the peril of having Florida officials become the only true voice of history based solely on state economic clout and pressure on teachers, another major problem lurks: if you tell teens there is only one way to think, you risk raising an army of Floridians who accept blindly what leaders tell them and just obey orders.
This formula has failed before. Why would Florida follow the educational path of the Soviet Union, Castro’s Cuba and Nazi Germany, right down to control over what students read? Are those the dictatorships our state admires? Leaders would deny it. So why are they mimicking dictators?
Another state also dictated what “truth” students must learn. Tennessee fined and fired a teacher who didn’t follow a law that educators must not contradict literal words of the Bible.
In 1925, John Scopes taught about evolution, which is today a basis of science. Had Tennessee’s Thought Police prevailed, geology could not reveal fossils as being 10,000 years old – in fact, virtually every science would be constrained. Tennessee’s Thought Police were wrong and the world laughed at them.
When law limits knowledge humanity loses, because time and again what we thought was true changed.
Do we want Florida’s leaders giving us the US history equivalent of “man cannot fly” or “the sun revolves around the earth” or “the earth is flat,” or is Florida smart enough to accept that what we today agree is correct might not be truth forever, in history as well as science?
Should all historic research stop because Thought Police have already told us all a Florida student should know? Let the nation laugh as it did at Tennessee in 1925. Let our students lag behind and universities everywhere take note.
Either that, or pray that the State Board of Education has the brains and courage to put the Thought Police in their place, which is far from the classroom. As this state lures tech executives from educated cities around the nation, it’s pitiful to tell them our students learn history by the whack-a-mole method.
*Whack-a-Mole is a children’s game in which players use a mallet to hit toy moles, which appear at random, back into their holes. Oxford Languages says the term is “used with reference to a situation in which attempts to solve a problem are piecemeal or superficial, resulting only in temporary or minor improvement.”