Opinion: Florida Education Bills Suppress Progressive Ideas, Warp History to Limit Dissent

Cover photo: Colin Hackley

By Ben Robinson

Last month, the state of Florida passed two bills designed to target progressive and revolutionary politics at all levels of the education system. The first mandates that state colleges and universities monitor the political beliefs of students, faculty, and staff, and the second adds content to school curricula that condemns revolutionary ideology and promotes US imperialism. Both bills went into effect on July 1.

The first bill, House Bill (HB) 233, requires the state’s Board of Education to “assess intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” for Florida state community colleges and universities through a survey that it will select or create. This will make it easier for the state to keep an eye on people with beliefs that support action against the capitalist state, like those who would protest racist police killings or imperialist bombing.

Though HB 233 itself does not say what the survey results would be used for, Governor Ron DeSantis has threatened to cut funding for universities that are, in his assessment, “hotbeds for stale ideology.” By “stale” he presumably means anti-racist or left-wing, and the bill provides another avenue for Democrats and Republicans to punish any of higher education’s tolerance for political beliefs that oppose US imperialism. To justify the bill, DeSantis has stated that universities have largely become “intellectually repressive environments,” pandering to his base who believe conservative ideas are stifled in education.

The second bill, HB 5, will further regulate the political content of K-12 curricula, vilifying communism specifically, and passed with a unanimous vote from both Democrats and Republicans in the Florida House and Senate. HB 5 adds “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States” to high school curriculum.

To the entire K-12 curriculum, HB 5 also adds “personal stories of diverse individuals who demonstrate civic-minded qualities,” particularly of those who have left so-called ‘communist’ countries. This is referred to as the “Portraits in Patriotism Act” which teaches American Exceptionalism, the belief that the US is a superior nation to all others, and is meant to foster “a sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government.” Should teachers follow the bill, which is likely to face their resistance, they would have to downplay, justify, or outright deny the atrocities the US government has committed.

At a press conference in June, DeSantis said that high school government classes will give students “instruction on the evils of communism.” Following this, K-12 courses must now include various “patriotic programs,” and teachers must ensure their high school students pass state standardized End of Course exams which now include more anti-communism as part of HB 5.

Both the Republicans and Democrats claimed to be defending free speech with their respective support and opposition to the college surveys in HB 233, but this posturing is especially hollow in light of the bipartisan support for this updated K-12 curricula in HB 5.

Much of this rhetoric may be part of DeSantis campaigning for a likely 2024 presidential run, pivoting to conservative Cuban immigrants in South Florida, but HB 5 is part of a long history of anti-communism in the US and the new red scare. Communism, the ideology of the proletariat, is targeted because it poses the greatest threat to the ruling US capitalist class.

The Florida Board of Education has also banned ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) from schools in early June, which they define as the theory that “racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.” The broadness of this definition enables the state to censor any K-12 teacher who recognizes systemic racism in their lessons, including those that do not teach CRT specifically.

While representatives of the Democratic Party have given lip service in defense of CRT, they have not addressed the issue in a meaningful way. In fact, their support of HB 5 shows that they do want to push false narratives of the US being a state of ‘freedom,’ rather than a dictatorship of the capitalist class which causes the very problems CRT is sometimes used to address.

The updated curricula show the further reactionization of the state as it strips away freedom of expression, seeking to prevent teachers from providing a materialist view of history that exposes the evils of the United States, such as the history of slavery or genocide of indigenous peoples. The reasoning behind the education bills has nothing to do with educating students. Instead, it indoctrinates them in support of US imperialism, the enemy of the world’s people.

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