By Diane Roberts
Ron DeSantis got a good education at Dunedin High School (under Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, I might add), Yale College, and Harvard Law. He had the chance to encounter a variety of ideas: No one forced him to agree. He was allowed to read a variety of texts, about which he could form his own judgments.
He was free to learn. Today, the students of Florida are not.
DeSantis’ crackdown on thinking has got teachers so spooked, and so emboldened censorious Christian nationalists, that knowledge is being ripped out of public education in this state, even before his ridiculous laws are officially in place.
A parent recently complained to North Shore Elementary, which shows the Disney film “Ruby Bridges” about the little girl who integrated New Orleans schools in 1960, as part of a lesson. Apparently, children might learn that white people can be racist (imagine!). Now the film is banned in Pinellas County schools.
As for the human body, DeSantis plans to rule that teachers cannot educate kids on sexual orientation and gender identity, all the way up to 12th grade.
One of his legislative vassals has filed a bill that would forbid discussion of reproductive health before sixth grade. If a fifth grade girl gets her first period, well, tough. Nice girls don’t menstruate.
As ignorant as possible
Bent on keeping children as ignorant as possible, local school authorities, egged on by those neo-Puritans calling themselves “Moms for Liberty,” are banning books that might suggest that gay and lesbian and trans kids are actual human beings.
This is not just “Don’t Say Gay,” it’s don’t be gay. Don’t be yourself. Be who Ron DeSantis tells you to be.
Florida’s so-called “education commissioner” says school “standards” won’t “incorporate gender ideology or any of these theories in math, social studies, reading, or anything else.”
Would somebody please tell Manny Diaz, Jr. that gender identity is not a theory?
This targeted hatefulness will cause young LGBTQ people extra suffering (and perhaps that’s the aim), but it sure as hell won’t stop them being who they are. It will stigmatize them and give their straight peers permission to abuse them.
In Florida, all kids are equal, but some are more equal than others — not that we want kids reading a dangerous writer like George Orwell.
You know what else is dangerous? Art.
A public charter school in Tallahassee, Tallahassee Classical, paid for by your tax dollars, forced the principal out because she (or somebody) failed to notify parents that a sixth grade Renaissance art class would, in fact, be looking at Renaissance art.
This school had been using the education plan laid out by the Michigan-based Hillsdale College, the ultra-conservative outfit that aided and abetted the destruction of New College. But even Hillsdale couldn’t handle the dumpster fire at Tallahassee Classical and has withdrawn the license for using their curriculum.
Classical board chair Barney Bishop, whose day job is lobbying for oil companies, private prisons, and polluters, isn’t handling all this very well, issuing contradictory denials and referring reporters to stories produced by the purveyors of right-wing conspiracy theories at The Epoch Times.
Bishop, evidently in a state of strong hysterics, gave an interview to Slate in which he yipped, “We don’t have safe spaces for kids so they won’t be offended by a Halloween costume. We don’t use pronouns. We teach them phonics.”
He added, “Parental rights are supreme.”
This school is obviously in dire need of a Drag Queen Story Hour.
Kids were supposed to have a lesson on Michelangelo’s statue of David and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” scandalously bra-less as she floats in from the sea. David is naked as a jay bird and sports his junk for all the world to see. The parental freak-out brigade did not see beauty or a celebration of the human form. One of them called it “pornography.”
Of course, that will soon be verboten. The Florida Legislature is apparently fine with shooting down children over and over, as long as they don’t see anything that deviates from their 1950s Wonder bread never-never America.
Indeed, to make sure the body count stays nice and high, there’s a pending bill to allow 18 year-olds to buy AR-15s, the gun of choiceat the slaughters in Nashville, Parkland, Uvalde, and Sandy Hook. But the young folks must never lay eyes on men dressed as women (looking at you, Mrs. Doubtfire) or women dressed as men (Viola in Twelfth Night? Busted!)
As HB 1423’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Fine, R-Asinine Acres, says, no minor must encounter “the lewd exposure of prosthetic or imitation genitals or breasts.”
How about the “lewd exposure” to violence and bigotry? Oh, I forgot: Violence and bigotry is now Florida’s brand.
You have to wonder why all these Republicans are so obsessed with private parts. Nobody’s making them fall in love with a member of the same sex. Nobody is making them wear drag. DeSantis and his pet Legislature will do nothing to help Floridians afford property insurance, slow rocketing rents, address the destruction of our wetlands, or expand access to health care but, by God, children will remain innocent!
Out here in the reality where most of us live, we know that horse is out of the barn and 20 miles down the road. Parents can set controls on their screens, but kids are smart little rats. They get on the internet. They figure out how to see everything they want from “Game of Thrones” to Only Fans to sites that show videos of hideous murders and car crashes and gunshot wounds.
And hey, Republicans, kids already know about penises and vaginas. They know there are gay people, too. And trans people. Even drag queens.
But Republicans talk of little besides naked mythic figures in art. Or menstruation. Or sex — so much sex.
DeSantis and his fellow witchfinders really should consider therapy.
Right-wing parents and Florida Republicans see sex everywhere. Repression? Pure prurience? Latent streak as wide as Lake Okeechobee? Whatever it is, I wouldn’t be surprised if, along with DeSantis’ election cops and his Praetorian Guard, the Legislature authorizes an Iranian-style Morality Police.
Meanwhile at Tallahassee Classical, some teachers and parents have called on the chairman of the board to resign. He refused. Why quit when you’re suddenly the punchline on late-night TV or the butt of jokes all over the civilized world?
That school has lost yet another educator, this time a science teacher who fell foul of some idiot of a parent who complained about “biased” environmental lessons. Seems the teacher had the temerity to teach the science and discuss “the theory of climate change.”
The seas are rising, the water is getting warmer, and the storms stronger, but hey, it’s just a “theory.” Like gravity. Heliocentrism. Evolution.
Anyway, what do teachers know? Barney Bishop sneered at the idea that years of pedagogical training, experience, and mastery of material in the field doesn’t make them more qualified than some random guy screaming in front of a public library.
As Bishop told a reporter, “Teachers are the experts? Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me? I know lots of teachers that are very good, but to suggest they are the authorities, you’re on better drugs than me.”
Here’s where we are, Florida: Teachers don’t know anything. They’re just babysitters making sure your kids never have to feel uncomfortable, never have to confront history or art or science, never have to think.
How else are we going to raise a new crop of Republican voters?
Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books.