critical theory of the race governor of florida ron desantis history education
As teachers in Florida, my colleagues and I suddenly find ourselves in conflict. That’s because Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill banning the teaching of “critical race theory” (CRT), and another requiring public colleges and universities to be polled in order to expose the so-called faculty indoctrination.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, the governor is not a stupid man. So why would he approve legislation that he and educators know is unenforceable and impossible.
The answer becomes clear after considering what he is trying to ban.
I know CRT after teaching it for 34 years in high school and college, although we don’t use that term. My composition and literature students read anthologies featuring American classics such as Twain, Dickinson and Hemingway, but also the work of minority authors, from Simon Ortiz and Alice Walker to Richard Wright and James Baldwin.
And the latter’s stories and essays describe life in both urban and rural America, dramatizing (fiction) and documenting (non-fiction) the struggles of the protagonists, sometimes difficult, sometimes futile, because of the obstacles raised against them. people of color by owners, judges, employers, retailers, journalists, police, bankers and bureaucrats. Obstacles that whites have not had to overcome (such as racial profiling by police) and posed by an establishment often oblivious to its prejudices (such as the story of Florida judges who imposed harsher sentences on blacks).
Yet suddenly politicians like DeSantis are raising alarm bells about the CRT because it dares to suggest that American institutions can be racist to perpetuate inequalities between whites and non-whites. Institutions such as education, businesses, courts, law enforcement, government, etc. whose faces, of course, are bankers, landlords, legislators, judges, police, etc. aforementioned, including the history of unequal treatment of minorities, few can deny.
In other words, the CRT is not, in DeSantis’ words, a leftist plot to teach young people to “hate America” and force white children to see themselves in a “negative light.” Rather, it is a verified body of knowledge that faithfully describes our past and present, in order to increase understanding in the hope of making improvements. In other words, educate.
To enforce its ban on CRT, DeSantis should therefore also ban African-American, Indigenous and Hispanic literature and rewrite our history books.
We are not brainwashers
When it comes to DeSantis’ Second Education Law, the methods my colleagues and I use are nothing like indoctrination. The governor has spent enough time in classrooms in the United States to know that unlike schools in Nazi Germany or Communist China, American teachers do not use brainwashing. In our democratic education system, university trustees, school boards, administrators, parents, other teachers, students themselves, and state law ensure that this does not happen in a college public.
A prime example is my teaching from “Sonny’s Blues,” an autobiographical story by James Baldwin, in which two brothers are adversely affected with life in a housing project in a poor Harlem neighborhood. It is the penultimate CRT text that has been included in textbooks nationwide since the 1970s.
I use the Socratic method to stimulate class discussion. Students voice their opinions, judging the characters and the credibility of the plot episodes based on their own standards derived from their family, religion, and experiences.
For homework, they write a reaction paper that is scored not on their conclusions, but on the strength of their writing and support for the opinions they express.
The same is true for educators elsewhere, since the teaching methodology in the United States is to encourage free expression and critical thinking by helping students develop their own methods of inquiry.
College students know this, as does DeSantis.
But as CPAC’s top presidential candidate for 2024, he has apparently trotted on CRT and a censorship threat to serve as his own personal version of Willie Horton.
Horton was an African-American inmate from Massachusetts who committed rape and murder while on leave under a program approved by Governor Michael Dukakis. Later, in 1988, George Bush, Sr., used Horton’s image in an advertising campaign credited with helping him win the presidency over Dukakis, sowing fear and hysteria among the electorate.
DeSantis’ CRT ban and inquisition into higher education will face a series of, possibly successful, lawsuits over First Amendment concerns well before 2024.
But he will have already played the race card and planted seeds of racial fear in the minds of his coveted constituents.
David McGrath has taught English at Florida Southwestern State College since 2010 and is the author of South Siders. [email protected]