Defunding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Public Schools and Politicizing the History Curriculum Are the Basis of Ron DeSantis’s Presidential Campaign

A month ago, when this blog covered Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s anti-WOKE efforts to subvert the honest teaching of American history in public schools and his attack on academic freedom in Florida’s colleges and universities, DeSantis was just getting started.  That post wondered: “As Governor Ron DeSantis becomes better known as a potential candidate for President in 2023—in a nation where polls show that citizens prize their public schools—will DeSantis’s agenda for public K-12 education and for public universities threaten his political viability?”

It has taken some time for the public to recognize what DeSantis’s attacks on public education show about the danger of his political agenda, but fortunately, as the month of January wore on, the Florida governor escalated his frontal attacks on public schools and public colleges to a level that could not be ignored. Last Tuesday, his actions were covered prominently by the NY Times:

“Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, as he positions himself for a run for president next year, has become an increasingly vocal culture warrior…. But his crusade has perhaps played out most dramatically in classrooms and on university campuses. He has banned instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in Kindergarten through third grade, limited what schools and employers can teach about racism and other aspects of history and rejected math textbooks en masse for what the state called ‘indoctrination.’ Most recently, he banned the College Board’s Advanced Placement course in African American Studies for high-school students.” And On January 31, “Governor DeSantis, A Republican, took his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment, announcing a proposed overhaul of the state’s higher education system….”

What has Governor Ron DeSantis accomplished in the past month?

Governor DeSantis, a politician, seems successfully to have pressured the College Board to revise a curriculum for a new high school Advanced Placement class on African American Studies according to the governor’s own political beliefs.

On January 19, 2023, the NY Times reported: “Florida will not allow a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies to be offered in its high schools, stating that the course is not ‘historically accurate’ and violates state law.”  Then, on February 1, 2023, the NY Times reported: “After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released… an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies—stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.  The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism…… In light of the conservative criticism, the College Board seemed to opt out of the politics. The revised 234-page curriculum framework ranges widely through content on Africa, slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights movement… But the study of contemporary topics—including Black Lives Matter, incarceration, queer life and the debate over reparations—is downgraded. The subjects are no longer part of the exam, and are simply offered on a list of options for a required research project.”

The reporters quote the response of Harvard University historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who had been a consultant for the original curriculum: “Dr. Gates… said he was ‘sorry that the College Board’s policy is not to require secondary sources in its curricula.’ He teaches Harvard’s introduction to African American studies,” and said in an e-mail that, “academic subjects such as ‘intersectionality’ and critical race theory, the 1619 Project, reparations for slavery, Black homophobia and antisemitism are fair game, of course, for such a class.”

Predictably, the College Board denied that Governor DeSantis’s objections to the preliminary curriculum were the cause of the changes it had made when the curriculum was finalized. Nevertheless, it is likely that his efforts, as a politician, were considered and will shape the teaching of African American Studies across the U.S. and at the same time raise his profile as a conservative politician.

With a set of new college trustees he personally installed last month, DeSantis has fired the President of the New College of Florida and announced a plan to overhaul that university’s curriculum and potentially jeopardize protections for the faculty there and at Florida’s other colleges and universities.

In early January, this blog reported that DeSantis had appointed six new board members including far-right activist Christopher Rufo to the board of the state’s public liberal arts college, the New College of Florida. Rufo had announced that he and other new board members were expected “to design a new core curriculum from scratch” and “encode it in a new academic master plan.”

On January 31st, Governor DeSantis acted on his plan. The Washington Post‘s Jack Stripling reported: (T)rustees at New College of Florida, six of whom DeSantis recently appointed, replaced the school’s president and directed staff to draft a policy that would shutter diversity offices at the public liberal arts institution in Sarasota. They agreed to name Richard Corcoran, who previously served as education commissioner under DeSantis and is a former Republican House speaker, to lead the school on an interim basis….”

DeSantis is aiming to reform higher education not only at New College but also across the state. Sripling continues: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)… called for diversity programs to be dismantled at the state’s colleges and universities, escalating efforts by the governor and many conservatives to root out what they see as liberalism and indoctrination in higher education…. In addition to defunding diversity offices, the governor said at a news conference, tenured professors should be subject to employment review at any time, a proposal that stirred immediate concerns about academic freedom. DeSantis said that his proposals would serve as a countermeasure to the ‘dominant view’ that higher education is designed to ‘impose ideological conformity’ and to ‘provoke political activism’…” “Under DeSantis’s plan, which he will ask the legislature to take up in March, the state would defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs….”

Stripling explains further: “The actions come weeks after DeSantis, as he was inaugurated for a second term, doubled down on a pledge to reshape colleges in the state. DeSantis recently signed a law that would require tenured faculty to undergo a review every five years. But there may be a need to ‘more aggressively’ examine faculty performance, DeSantis said, touting a plan for college governing boards to review tenured faculty members ‘at any time.’ In the same vein, DeSantis proposed giving college presidents more authority in hiring decisions, over which he said faculty committees have too much influence.”

There is, of course, considerable push back within the university system. Stripling quotes Danaya Wright, a University of Florida law professor, defending tenure protections and the practice by which faculty committees recruit fellow faculty: “It’s one of the fundamental aspects of the academic mission that those who are experts in the field are deciding who has expertise and whose qualifications meet the standard we expect.”

In a profound blog post, retired television journalists Dan Rather and Elliot Kirshner reject as dangerous Governor DeSantis’s attack on academic freedom at Florida’s universities and condemn DeSantis’s recent attempts to undermine teachers who encourage students in K-12 public schools to think critically about current topics in our society and our public life:

“DeSantis has focused his assaults on two of our society’s most traditionally marginalized groups: Black Americans and the LGBTQ community. While these populations have thus far felt the brunt of his targeting, we need to see clearly that his rhetoric is a threat to all who care about a democratic, peaceful, empathetic, and just America… It should not surprise us that DeSantis is making schools—both K-12 and college—a central target. He wants to teach a distorted view of America. He wants to make dissenting speech not only suspect but even criminal. He wants to silence the voices of his critics and of critical thinking more generally. This is a playbook that has been followed by demagogues before to very dangerous ends…. (W)e can’t replace the truth, as unsavory as it may be, with sanitized narratives that suit those already in power… DeSantis…. wants to appeal to fear because he thinks he can mine that fear for votes.”


4 thoughts on “Defunding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Public Schools and Politicizing the History Curriculum Are the Basis of Ron DeSantis’s Presidential Campaign

  1. Pingback: DeSantis Undermines Public Schools’ Purpose: Forming the Citizens of a Multicultural Society | janresseger

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