Florida Governor Ron DeSantis calls his Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative a model for the whole nation. This is the right-wing agenda that will be passed on to American children and their teachers if DeSantis or someone like him ever becomes President of the United States.
DeSantis is a scary guy. He is among the more right-wing leading Republicans, but he comes across as less crazed than Donald Trump, and therefore more likely to win the support of mainstream Republican voters. On the issues, DeSantis is anti-choice on abortion but pro-choice on COVID vaccinations, charter school expansion and private school vouchers, opposes federal stimulus spending and climate action initiatives, s opposes same-sex marriage, restores voting rights to ex-criminals and raises taxes on wealthy corporations and supports voting restrictions that limit democracy. DeSantis also attacks diversity, equity and inclusion programs in schools and the teaching of racism in American society.
The DeSantis Florida Civic Excellence Initiative will establish training for teachers and reward graduates with a Florida Civic Excellence Seal and a $3,000 stipend. This summer, the Florida Department of Education is hosting 10 regional 3-day civic learning trainings for more than 2,500 teachers.
The Civic Literacy Initiative will also revise Florida’s civic education curriculum and support the implementation of the revised civic and governmental standards in K-12 public schools. According to the Florida Commissioner of Education, “The Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative is a comprehensive approach to fully elevate the literacy and civic education of Florida students and teachers, beyond any state in the country. Florida’s continued commitment to leadership and to promoting the values we hope to see in our society will not only help develop great students, but create the humble, civic citizens of tomorrow.
Florida Civics standards require high school students“recognize indicators of democratization as a system of free and fair elections, active civic participation, protection of human rights and rule of law. But unlike other state civic standards, they do not encourage meaningful student civic participation. The National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) College, Career, and Civics (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards (NCSS, 2013), is not official in any state, but is often used as a model for state guidelines. The NCSS framework specifically endorses student activism. According to the framework, “Civic education is not limited to the study of politics and society; it also encompasses participation in classrooms and schools, neighborhoods, groups and organizations. . . In civics, students learn to contribute appropriately to public processes and discussions of real issues. Their contributions to public debates can take many forms, ranging from personal testimony to abstract arguments. They will also learn civic practices such as voting, volunteering, serving on jurors, and joining with others to better society. Civics enables students not only to study how others participate, but also to train themselves to participate and act knowledgeably. The specific goal of New York State’s 12th grade Participating in Government and Civics course is to “provide students with opportunities to engage in the political process.” Even earlier Florida college standards encouraged students to “Experience the responsibilities of citizens at the local, state or federal level.
Reports from teachers participating in “professional learning trainings” expose the ideological underpinnings of uncivic illiteracy in Florida and the “type of humble and civic citizens,” contemplates DeSantis.
According to an article from Miami Herald the “new standards portray the founders against the idea of separation of church and state, downplay the role of the colonies in slavery, and push conservative judicial theories. While the state Department of Education claimed that “every lesson we teach is based in history, not ideology or any form of indoctrination,” Barbara Segal, a 12th grade government teacher year at Fort Lauderdale High, described standards and workshops as “very biased.” with “a very strong Christian fundamentalist way of analyzing different quotes and different documents.” It was worrying. Richard Judd, a veteran social studies professor, described a “disturbing” attempt to “both censor and drive or propagate particular viewpoints”.
A Herald review of the 200-page package and accompanying slideshow revealed that a main theme corrects supposed “misconceptions” about the nation’s founders. Non-Civic Illiteracy Standards acknowledges that two-thirds of the Founding Fathers were slaveholders, but insists that “even those who held slaves did not defend the institution”.
A slide claimed that the “founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it essential to civic virtue.” Another slide argued that they believed that without support for religion in the new nation, citizens became “licentious” and vulnerable to tyranny. The workshops accused Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s of distorting our understanding of the importance of religion in society and in the views of the founders. The 1962 Engel v. Vital The decision that school-sponsored prayer violated the First Amendment has been compared to Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896 which legalized racial segregation in the United States. According to Herald article, the Florida Non-Civic Illiteracy Standards got the date wrong for Plessy, reporting it as 1892.
The workshops on non-civic illiteracy were developed in coordination with Hillsdale College, the Bill of Rights Institute, and the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. Hillsdale College is a “Michigan-based ultra-conservative ‘Christian’ private school committed to maintain the “immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith”. Its president was recorded claiming, “teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country” and the “The philosophical understanding at the heart of modern education is slavery.” Many junior members of the Trump administration and congressional aides from the Republican Party were recent Hillsdale graduates.
The Bill of Rights Institute was founded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation in 1999 to promote a right-wing interpretation of the Constitution in schools. Charles Koch is a right-wing fossil fuel billionaire who also funds the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network. The Bill of Rights Institute is a member of the ALEC Education Task Force.
The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is a partnership between the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida and the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida. The Lou Frey Institute will develop a curriculum for DeSantis civic “academies” scheduled to open in 2023. The Lou Frey Institute has also developed a 100-question multiple-choice test so students can demonstrate civic literacy test. The pass mark for the test would be 60 and since the test would be used over and over again, teachers and students would have the questions in advance, it wouldn’t test much. The test would satisfy high school and college civic requirements under the Florida model Civic Literacy Excellence Initiative.
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