Scott Maxwell: The Florida purge: Whitewashing history, banning books
From the commentary: The leader of a Holocaust Center in South Florida made a similar point recently stressing: “The Holocaust, it didn’t start with guns and death camps. It started with words.” ... Well, words are precisely what Florida is trying to ban, censor and distort. In unprecedented fashion.
The headlines are as abundant as they are dystopian:
“Florida rejects, amends many social studies textbooks”
“An Entire Florida School District Has Banned a Kids’ Book on Segregation”
“350+ Books Banned in Florida School Districts Since Last July”
“Florida bans more than 40% of math books after review”
A knowledge purge is underway in Florida. The targets: History lessons that politicians want hidden. Perspectives that make parents uncomfortable. Truths that ideologues find inconvenient.
Basically, we have people who want to control the narrative. And they think it’s easier to do that if kids don’t know all the facts.
Now, it’s hard to get your hands around both the scope and the specifics of this purge, because education officials are censoring so much and revealing so little.
In the latest salvo, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education department rejected 35 different social studies books — more than a third of all they reviewed.
But to justify their actions, they released snippets from only six of the books they shunned or ordered altered. So you don’t have much to go on.
But let’s look at one of those six examples. It’s from an elementary school textbook that teaches children about patriotism.
DeSantis staffers approved passages that instructed students to learn the Pledge of Allegiance and encouraged parents to stress the significance of the national anthem. But they did not want kids hearing why they might see some Americans, especially athletes on TV, take a knee during the anthem.
Specifically, the Florida Department of Education ordered the textbook to remove a section that suggested parents — not teachers, mind you — use that lesson on patriotic traditions “as an opportunity to talk about why some citizens are choosing to ‘Take a Knee’ to protest police brutality and racism.” DeSantis staffers ordered that suggestion stricken.
A popular talking point for people who dislike athletes taking a knee is to describe them as “anti-American,” “anti-cop” or “unpatriotic.” And it’s easier to peddle that narrative if students don’t hear why the players themselves say they’re doing what they are.
Personally, I think there’s valid debate over taking a knee. I can see why some players would. I can see why many people would dislike them doing so. It’s not really that hard to understand the divide — if you listen to what people on both sides are saying.
But the new Florida model of education doesn’t want to share all sides. The censors say kids aren’t ready for these discussions. Really, though, it’s the adults who are scared their kids might hear a different perspective. They’re the snowflakes.
The DeSantis censors also axed a section about Black Lives Matter from a middle school textbook that presented both pro and con perspectives on the social movement. The passage described the killing of George Floyd, explained that social media gave rise to civic activism and then gave a brief explanation of why some people supported Black Lives Matter and an even lengthier description of why others opposed it. DeSantis’ education staffers ordered the entire section removed.
At least one of the passages DeSantis staffers removed looks justifiably flagged. It’s a section from a middle-school book that attempts to teach students what a socialist form of government is.
The first part does a fine job explaining that, in a socialist society, the government controls much of the means of production, but then says: “It keeps things nice and even and without unnecessary waste.” Um, what? That seems more like a pom-pom for socialism — and a pretty skewed one at that — than a civics lesson. Yank it out.
But here’s the problem: DeSantis staffers shared a reworked version of the textbook that met their approval. It removed the word “socialism” altogether, replacing it with “planned economies.”
I’m no fan of socialism, but I’d sure like students to have a correct understanding of what it is. Why? Because the vast majority of adults who scream about socialism absolutely do not. They somehow believe anything government-funded is “socialism” … and then turn into Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel when you ask them if that means Medicare and highways are socialist as well.
I’d love to see students better informed than these adults. But that seems to be the last thing the grown-ups want.
Last year, before state officials were rejecting social studies textbooks, they were flagging math books for being allegedly too woke. A handful of people apparently believed liberal boogeymen had infiltrated the nation’s algebra-instructional complex. And the handful got their way.
Some of this censorship is silly, political theater. Some is a serious effort to indoctrinate.
One publisher, Penguin Randomhouse, sued the Escambia County school district last week over its book-banning. Other publishers agree to comply with whatever censorship orders they’re given as they’re more interested in selling textbooks than standing on any sort of educational principles.
Then there are all the school library books being banned in historic numbers, thanks to the Republican-led Legislature’s new book-banning bill — books about everything from the civil rights movement to nontraditional families.
The Lake County school district pulled a picture book about the true story of two male penguins in Central Park Zoo who raised a chick after the zookeeper gave them an egg. A Panhandle district removed a book about school segregation in the 1950s with the New Republic reporting the district concluded the subject matter was “difficult for elementary students to comprehend.”
I don’t think kids are the problem here. In fact, the local banning crusades are sometimes led by just one or two adults who not only want to shelter their own kids from ideas they find scary but want to keep books away from everyone else’s kids at school as well.
I thought of all this book-banning and history-censoring while attending a recent session on the rise of antisemitism at the Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Florida. One panelist said the best way to combat hatred, intolerance and ignorance is to ensure children hear unvarnished truths. He described it as “The criticality of giving truth to our kids.”
The leader of a Holocaust Center in South Florida made a similar point recently stressing : “The Holocaust, it didn’t start with guns and death camps. It started with words.”
Well, words are precisely what Florida is trying to ban, censor and distort. In unprecedented fashion.
Scott Maxwell is the Metro Columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. This commentary is the columnist's opinion. Send feedback to: email@example.com.
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