Fear and Loathing in FloridaRoundup
tags: Florida, higher education, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis
Samuel Hoadley-Brill is a Ph.D. student in Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Research & Writing Fellow at AAPF. Passionate about media literacy and integrity, he has published articles debunking popular anti-intellectual propaganda in The Washington Post, Flux, and Liberal Currents, as well as his Substack.
On January 12, the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis garnered national media attention when he rejected a request from the College Board to approve an Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course for students of Florida’s public high schools, claiming the new course “significantly lacks educational value” and is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law.” Just weeks later, on February 1, the College Board announced a significantly revised curriculum for the course, one that had been refocused on “primary sources” and stripped of “theory.” Despite the College Board’s insistence that these were standard revisions based on the recommendation of scholars and experts, documents seem to reveal months of correspondence with the state’s Department of Education attempting to reconcile the course to Florida statutes. Regardless of the backroom dealings that may have inspired the revisions, the updated curriculum has been purged of key ideas and contemporary issues in the field of African American studies, including institutional racism, intersectionality, Black feminism, and the Black Lives Matter movement, leading a group of “over 1,000 faculty, administrators and supporters in higher education who teach, write, research and lead in the areas of African American and Black Studies” to pen an open letter to the College Board’s CEO calling for a restoration of the integrity of the course. In the ensuing weeks, the College Board has offered apologies for some of its media statements but continued to defend the reduced curriculum.
AP African American Studies is already being taught at a racially diverse high school in Tallahassee, Florida as part of the College Board’s pilot program. FSU doctoral student Marlon Williams-Clark, who is currently teaching AP African American studies, was interviewed by NPR a few weeks into the 2022-2023 school year. He said his AP students are deeply interested in the topics they’re learning about, and he’s had nothing but positive reactions from their parents, who are happy to see their children so excited about their schoolwork. At the same time, he has acknowledged that Florida’s memory law, H.B. 7—better known as the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act”—is restricting his ability to lead classroom discussions. When Mr. Williams-Clark reaches the final eight weeks of the semester—the portion of the curriculum which the DeSantis administration has cited as illegal under the Stop W.O.K.E. Act—will he be punished for assigning a text by Angela Davis or Kimberlé Crenshaw? We know that arresting a Black man at gunpoint for voting isn’t beyond DeSantis. What about arresting one for teaching high school students about critical race theory?
The comparison is instructive: much like “voter fraud,” the term “critical race theory” can mean whatever DeSantis needs it to mean to justify his anti-democratic agenda. If he is criticized for making it harder to vote in predominantly Black communities, for slashing Black voters’ political power through gerrymandering, or for creating a neofascist election police force that arrested people who had already been told by government officials that they were allowed to vote, DeSantis will insist he’s only standing up for “election integrity.” In the same fashion, the governor defends his restrictions on what teachers and college professors can say about race, gender, and American history, aptly described by a federal judge as “positively dystopian,” by framing these draconian attacks on public education as heroic defensive measures protecting children from woke indoctrination.
Conservative activists from Frank Luntz to Christopher Rufo have mastered the art of framing political issues in terms that benefit Republicans. Luntz’s impact speaks for itself: he’s responsible for Republicans saying “illegal aliens” instead of “undocumented workers,” talking about “border security” rather than “immigration reform,” and referring to the estate tax as “the death tax.” Cognitive scientist George Lakoff gives a persuasive account of the dark arts of linguistic deception on which figures like Luntz and Rufo have built lucrative careers.
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