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Florida Banned The Teaching Of Critical Race Theory … Or Did It?

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Scary Mommy and ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty

On Thursday, June 10, the Florida Board of Education passed a measure to ban the teaching of critical race theory. The proposal passed 5-2, banning the teaching of critical race theory but requiring the teaching of certain subject areas, including the Holocaust, civil rights, and slavery.

In a breathtaking display of self-righteousness, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in his intro remarks from a remote location that critical race theory is “Toxic,” that it’s “about trying to craft narratives about history,” and that it’s “not grounded in facts.” He said it tries to “bring ideology and political activism under the guise of education.”

“We need to be educating people, not trying to indoctrinate them with ideology,” he told the crowd. He said critical race theory teaches students “that the country is rotten and institutions are illegitimate” and that “the woke class wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read … I find it unthinkable that there are other people in positions of leadership in the federal government who believe that we should teach kids to hate our country.”

Prior to the board meeting, DeSantis tweeted, “Critical Race Theory teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other. It is state-sanctioned racism and has no place in Florida schools.”

Ron DeSantis Might Be An Actual Demon

Ron DeSantis is not as stupid as his fear-mongering word salad makes him appear. He is perfectly aware of the racist dog whistles with which he peppers his speech. He knows that when he talks about teaching historical facts, teaching kids how to think critically, and not “indoctrinating” kids, that this is exactly the point “the woke class” is trying to make when we support teaching critical race theory.

DeSantis knows that critical race theory is not about teaching kids to “hate our country and each other.” He knows that. He is saying all this because he is pandering to his racist far-right base because he knows that kind of talk gives his racist supporters a frenzied little white boner to vote for him. The man knows exactly what he’s doing.

What Is Critical Race Theory, Anyway?

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty

AFP via Getty Images

But let’s pretend for a moment that DeSantis made his arguments in good faith. Let’s pretend he really is interested in teaching kids the truth and encouraging them to engage in critical thinking about the facts presented to them. Let’s pretend he really cares about teaching them not what to think, but how to think.

If that were the case, then he would need to be educated about what critical race theory actually is. The aims of critical race theory are quite similar to what DeSantis and other conservatives claim to want for students.

At its core, critical race theory views racism as a social construct “that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.” It seeks to critically explore how historical events shaped racism and inequality in the U.S., particular with regards to our legal and social systems.

The Florida rule says in part: “Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” The rule also states that teachers must “serve as facilitators for student discussion and do not share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”

Does anyone else see the similarities here? It’s almost like the rule is telling teachers to go ahead and teach critical race theory, but just … don’t call it that. I know that’s not the intent of these fear-mongering shitbags, but it’s kind of what they did.

Conservatives Love Inventing “Problems” So They Can Enact Discriminatory Policy

ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty

AFP via Getty Images

Officially, critical race theory is not taught in Florida public schools, nor is it taught in any other public school system for that matter.

Conservatives pulled the same stunt with passing anti-trans sports legislation. They manifested a completely nonexistent “problem” so they could get their transphobic sycophants all frothing at the mouth and heavy breathing their gross spittle everywhere as they passed legislation that does tangible harm to the most oppressed and marginalized group in our society. But hey, who cares who you crush as long as it gets you closer to #DeSantis 2024, amiright?

Just as with the anti-trans legislation, conservative politicians have made critical race theory a major focal point of discussion — something their constituents can get real, real mad about. I wonder why that is? (See white boner comment above.)

Still, it’s ironic that when when the “woke class” suggests we teach critical thinking alongside historical fact — relying on primary source materials rather than narratives written by white textbook writers choking on their own white fragility — DeSantis’s comeback is that we should “teach students HOW to think, not WHAT to think” and that classroom instruction should be “factual and objective.”

It should be noted that critical race theory as a concept is generally not taught until college. The “critical” piece is impossible to achieve if students lack knowledge of the larger historical and social framework upon which they would form critiques. However, conversations about systemic and structural racism as relates to historical events can and should be part of any history curriculum. Critical race theory should be taught in age appropriate ways from as early as possible. Critical everything should be taught in age appropriate ways from as early as possible. (Teaching kids how to think instead of what to think, right?)

But the truth is, teachers can teach critical race theory without saying a single thing. It would be enough to simply present any number of the thousands of historical documents that explicitly oppress and harm Native Americans, Black folks, and other non-white peoples. There are literal volumes of primary source material — not “narrative,” but actual primary source material; it’s important to know the difference — in which white legislators and politicians wrote down exactly how they intended for the world to look, and even legislated it into action. That is an objective fact.

Meanwhile it is our education system’s history books that for generations have left out these explicit primary source materials while softening the narrative, wholly omitting documents that objectively demonstrate systemic harm and oppression, crafting a false “history” that paints the white folks in power in history as, at worst, simply “misinformed.” If that’s not indoctrination, then I don’t know what is.

So, teachers, go ahead and follow DeSantis’s rule: Teach facts. Be objective. Use primary source material to support your teaching. Encourage discussion amongst your students. Just don’t call it critical race theory. The next generation does not have to grow up with the same white-washed version of history that we did. These kids deserve to know the truth. We all do.

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