Other states have passed, or are considering, legislation that bans broad topics such as “divisive ideas” or the idea that an individual, “by virtue of his or her race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” Oklahoma’s law says that the concepts such as the idea that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex” can’t be made part of a course. The list is typically composed of characteristics that opponents of critical race theory claim it contains.
But Board of Education member Tom Grady took Florida’s rule a step further by explicitly banning Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project, as well as explicitly forbidding any idea that racism is in any way systemic or “embedded in American society.”
The rule manages to be both specific and vague at the same time; like many of these bills, it offers a definition of CRT that proponents of CRT would not necessarily recognize. Attempts to clarify are not necessarily helpful; when asked the department about teaching the Ocoee massacre, a 1920 attack by a white mob on a Black community, a reporter was told, apparently in writing, “The Ocoee massacre was a historical event. Like all historical events, it will be taught thoroughly.”
Opponents of CRT seem to feel that history can be taught simply as facts and figures and dates, but that’s an approach that is not very true to historical studies, not to mention boring for school students. And it’s not as easy as some make it sound. For years, the Tulsa Race Massacre was known as the Tulsa Race Riot; simply naming an event can be a choice filled with considerable meaning, interpretation, and point of view. Much more than “simple” facts.
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Teachers are forbidden to “share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view” that is inconsistent with state standards. That’s a huge, vague guideline, making any kind of teacher expression of belief a possible violation.
All of this matters because classroom teachers exist at the place where these kinds of sweeping laws meet actual practice. All teachers in some states know for sure right now is that there’s a big, politically charged line drawn, and nobody knows exactly where it is.
In Kentucky, the penalty for crossing that line is $5,000. But in Florida, it could be far worse.
That’s because Florida years ago abolished due process (what is sometimes called tenure) for teachers. A newly-hired Florida teacher is contracted for one year, and at the end of that year, the district can either rehire that teacher, or not. If they choose not to, they don’t have to give cause, which has given school districts the power to get rid of teachers who cause trouble, even if the trouble is advocating for students.
Some school administrators are going to be risk averse and simply forbid teachers to do anything that might in any way come close to crossing that as-yet-unrevealed line. Others may be scared by parental response; at West Broward High School, the assistant principal briefly suspended distribution of the school yearbook, because the yearbook staff had done what yearbook staffs do. They had marked the memorable topics of the year, but one of those was Black Lives Matter, and the office received angry phone calls. Ultimately, the district inserted a letter in the books saying that this was a student publication and that any political views “are not sponsored by the district.” That yearbook advisor now has to know that his district does not have his back.
Another district is currently defending itself in a lawsuit brought by teacher Amy Donofrio, who was put in “teacher jail” for challenging the district on its treatment of Black students and staff and for hanging a Black Lives Matter banner outside her classroom. Education commissioner Richard Corcoran used her as an example of indoctrination, and briefly tried to take credit for firing her (he had not). A BLM banner is not part of critical race theory, but in the state of Florida, it may come close enough.
The FL Citizens Alliance, a Twitter-active 501C3, “dedicated to equipping citizens with resources to improve K-12 education” last week warned that Collier County Public Schools would be holding a hearing about language arts textbooks “that are full of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and its many tentacles (ex. “equity”, “diversity”, BLM, 1619 project, social emotional learning, etc.)” suggesting that for some folks, the definition of the now-forbidden material has broadened to include a long laundry list of unrelated items (nothing in that list is directly linked to CRT, and some items, such as social emotional learning, are completely separate).
At the hearing, a district official and a board member who had read the books cover to cover insisted that there was “no evidence of critical race theory” in the books or any of the additional materials. Nevertheless, the meeting became heated as parents railed against pushing liberal ideology and Marxist views.
In this environment, and with no job protections, teachers will want to keep their heads down and avoid all trouble, avoiding any discussion of any issues related to race in their classrooms. In a state where only 36% of public school students are white, that could be a real challenge.
One state board member reportedly suggested that teachers will need more professional development to better understand what they are forbidden to teach; that would be a new sort of professional anti-development. More than a few observers have suggested that Governor Ron DeSantis is using this issue as an opportunity to raise his 2024 Presidential profile, and so he would have no reason to be concerned about what, exactly, teachers are supposed to not do. With the ban in place, teacher training courses will have to cover the question of what new teachers should avoid; ironically, the ban will virtually guarantee that critical race theory will now be taught in every college teacher training program in the state.