Sarah Deutsch: Practicing history in Florida, is it illegal?

n June 6, 2006, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed into law the “A-Plus-Plus Plan” to reform K-12 education. Touted as a way to fix the problems voters find lacking in their local schools, it passed with much fanfare and little if any critical response. In it are policies that require entering high school students to choose a major in either an academic or technical field. Also, teachers are compelled to teach sexual abstinence as the “expected standard” of sexual health education, flag education (specifically how to display and salute the flag), and the importance of free enterprise to the U.S. economy, as well as to initiate curriculum that promotes patriotism and respect for authority, life, liberty, and personal property. The most telling reforms that will impact the membership of the OAH are the new history policies.

The following is taken directly from the legislation:

Lines 1155-1163: The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.

Lines 1211-1219: The character-development curriculum shall stress the qualities of patriotism, responsibility, citizenship, kindness, respect for authority, life, liberty, and personal property, honesty, charity, self-control, racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance, and cooperation. In order to encourage patriotism, [stress] the sacrifices that veterans have made in serving our country and protecting democratic values worldwide. Such instruction must occur on or before Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day.

Lines 1149-1150: [Stress] the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy.

What made this case both interesting and ironic for me is that this year I started to assign Peter Charles Hoffer’s Past Imperfect (2004) in my history methods and graduate classes. Hoffer vividly chronicles this movement to control the interpretation of history on the part of conservative activists and how academia has responded to it. For my students, the situation in Florida gave them a local petri dish to examine how the issues Hoffer confronts are still alive. It was a chilling epilogue to the book....

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