How Far Will Florida’s Anti-Woke Crusade Go?

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

As the saying goes, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Of course, famed scientist Isaac Newton was referring to physics. But the same maxim tends to also be applicable to politics.

This can be seen in the current battle in the culture war over wokeism and anti-wokeism. As the progressive left has ramped up its efforts to infuse various aspects of American society with their Marxist ideology, a tremendous backlash has ensued.

The school system has been one of the battlefields on which this war has raged the most. When people realized how aggressively this movement has been trying to transform K-12 schools into indoctrination centers intended to influence young minds, this particular conflagration began in earnest as parents showed up to school board meetings to protest the material with which their children were being presented in the classroom.

Republican politicians have spoken out vociferously against the push for far leftist ideas on race, sexuality, and gender identity in the school system. Some states have passed laws designed to address this troubling trend. GOP politicians have heavily relied on branding themselves as “anti-woke” to appeal to constituents and potential voters.

At the forefront of the battle is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who proudly declared earlier in 2023 that the Sunshine State is “where woke goes to die.” It has become his pet issue, one he appears to be leveraging for his run for the presidency in 2024.

Florida has passed a slew of controversial laws designed to curtail the effort to indoctrinate young minds into progressive orthodoxy. But is it possible that some of these measures might be going too far? Could they be having unintended – or intended – consequences?

The New York Times published a report recently examining the fallout of laws like the Stop WOKE Act, which is aimed at eradicating critical race theory (CRT) from public and private institutions. The author noted how Florida has rejected dozens of math textbooks for featuring “prohibited topics.”

But now, the focus is on a different subject: Social studies.

“In the last few months, as part of the review process, a small army of state experts, teachers, parents and political activists have combed thousands of pages of text — not only evaluating academic content, but also flagging anything that could hint, for instance, at critical race theory,” the author reported.

In one instance, the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative organization, demanded that Florida reject 28 of the 38 textbooks its volunteers reviewed. From the New York Times:

In a summary of its findings submitted to the state last month, the group complained that a McGraw Hill fifth-grade textbook, for example, mentioned slavery 189 times within a few chapters alone. Another objection: An eighth-grade book gave outsize attention to the “negative side” of the treatment of Native Americans, while failing to give a fuller account of their own acts of violence, such as the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, in which Powhatan warriors killed more than 300 English colonists.

Of particular interest was that one publisher developed multiple versions of its social studies content to diminish or even delete references to race out of concern over running afoul of the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits educators from teaching in a way that might make students feel discomfort or shame based on their skin color. The intent appears to be to prevent teachers from presenting America’s fraught history with race in a manner that blames the entire white race for past and current problems or unfairly labels them as racist “oppressors.”

The publisher, Studies Weekly, creates curricula for science and social studies classes, and its products are used in Florida elementary schools currently. The company created three versions of the Rosa Parks story intended for first graders. It has developed its current lesson as one lesson for state textbook review, and another updated second version.

In the current lesson, it notes that “the law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down.”

But the updated version for textbook review appeared to water down the role race played in this history. “[Rosa Parks] was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin,” the lesson read.

In the most updated version, race and skin color are completely omitted from the text. “She was told to move to a different seat,” the lesson said.

The report notes that it is not clear which of the versions was submitted for Florida’s review, but points out that the second version that doesn’t mention race was still available on the publisher’s website until last week.

The company made similar alterations to a fourth-grade lesson about segregation laws that were passed after the conclusion of the Civil War. From the New York Times:

In the initial version for the textbook review, the text routinely refers to African Americans, explaining how they were affected by the laws. The second version eliminates nearly all direct mentions of race, saying that it was illegal for “men of certain groups” to be unemployed and that “certain groups of people” were prevented from serving on a jury.

So far, Studies Weekly is the only publisher that has made such drastic changes to its lessons, but it is possible that other companies have done the same.

Florida’s Department of Education stated that Studies Weekly’s alterations were overkill. It said that any material that “avoids the topic of race when teaching the Civil Rights movement, slavery, segregation, etc. would not be adhering to Florida law.”

However, John McCurdy, CEO of Studies Weekly told the Times that “all publishers are expected to design a curriculum that aligns with” the requirements laid out in the Stop WOKE Act.

It is important to note that not only does existing Florida law mandate the teaching of slavery, Jim Crow, and other subject, the text of the Stop WOKE Act reaffirms this requirement, which could indicate that Studies Weekly went overboard. Moreover, it is not exactly a stretch to speculate that the company could have gone to these lengths simply to make a point that an outlet like the New York Times would eagerly parrot.

However, since this issue is subjective, it is not hard to imagine that these problems could arise. When teaching on racially-charged subjects, it seems inevitable that it would make students feel uncomfortable – as they should be. Where is the line between ensuring that children are not being propagandized to about their skin color and teaching accurate history? That is a question that might not be as easy to answer as it might seem, given the current political climate.

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