By Robert Koehler
Curse that First Amendment! What were the Founding Fathers thinking?
As Ron DeSantis has declared and legislated, the safety of Florida — and, yeah, the safety of the nation — isn’t a matter of gun control (or police control) but speech control, especially in public-school classrooms and libraries, where the innocent minds of our children are developing.
We shouldn’t be teaching them the howling beast of so-called “real” history, for God’s sake, replete with words like “reparations” or “Dred Scott” or “mass incarceration” — let alone, “queer” — but rather, polite history. The America we believe in is the one where people behave themselves and everyone gets along, right? That’s the real America, and those who don’t acknowledge as much . . . well, we can always burn a cross on their lawn.
OK, calm down, class. Let me at least acknowledge this much: I can more or less understand the concern — the fear — on the DeSantis right of the teaching of real history: the divisive history of white conquest of a continent; the history of slavery, lynching, Native American genocide. Yeah, that could make some people feel uncomfortable, especially if history is taught primarily as propaganda, simplistic and unquestioned, an adjunct, say, to the Pledge of Allegiance, which is the history I grew up learning in the 1950s.
In those pre-civil-rights-era days — where white was still, unquestionably, right — history essentially was a matter of “the first white man” to do whatever, e.g.: sail across the Atlantic, “discover America,” conquer the Wild West, teach savages about God. History was a gallery of white male heroes. It was taught from war to war. And it was good.
The problem that DeSantis and company face today is that the present moment is more racially and intellectually complex than it was seven-plus decades ago. The civil rights movement shattered the “white is right” mentality: Jim Crow is dead and gone, but his legacy must still be examined and atoned for. Citizenship isn’t a “whites only” thing, and American heroes of the good old days, including the Founding Fathers, are suddenly a bit less than their legacy. America — the real America of 2023 — emerged, evolved, not from its exceptionalism but its mistakes and misjudgments, which are still present today, often continuing to create serious harm.
Indeed, the real history of America is endlessly shocking. Grab one of its heroes — Teddy Roosevelt, let us say — and listen to his words, his values, as they sound in the world of today, e.g.: Should black Americans be allowed to vote?
As the History Channel points out, he once said to Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, back in 1916: “(T)he great majority of Negroes in the South are wholly unfit for the suffrage.” Giving them the right to vote could “reduce parts of the South to the level of Haiti.”
And, oh yeah: “Roosevelt viewed Native Americans as impediments to the white settlement of the United States and believed that white frontiersmen had forged a new race — the American race — by ‘ceaseless strife waged against wild man and wild nature.’”
Such words start putting American exceptionalism into a discomforting context. Should they . . . uh, not be taught? Washed forever down the American memory hole? Or maybe at the very least, removed from generic, “normal” history and relegated to a separate category, such as Black History.
Black History also provides the context for teaching such historical horrors as, for example, Florida’s 1923 Rosewood Massacre: one more largely forgotten detail of the Jim Crow days — the destruction of a prosperous, mostly African American town by angry white men, in search of someone who had allegedly attacked a white woman in nearby Sumner. Hundreds of white men ravaged the town, burning it to the ground, killing an unknown number of residents (possibly over a hundred). As the Tampa Bay Times put it:
“In the course of one week, the bustling town was reduced to ashes. The only thing that stands today is a sign erected to commemorate Rosewood. It is riddled by bullets.”
Seventy-plus years later, after a team of scholars researched the incident and concluded that the state of Florida failed to protect Rosewood from the racially motivated massacre, the state issued $2 million in reparations for the survivors. While the story of Rosewood is taught in some Florida schools, DeSantis has recently mandated that the word “reparations” cannot be used in the teaching.
The would-be future president, addressing the Florida Board of Education last summer, explained himself thus: “The ‘woke class’ wants to teach kids to hate each other, rather than teaching them how to read, but we will not let them bring nonsense ideology into Florida’s schools.”
This is apparently a man who cannot see beyond the concept of propaganda. Words are meant to convey what we must believe, nothing more, nothing less. One plus one equals two. And teaching the wrong propaganda is deeply problematic to national security. Hence, speech control is necessary. Teachers who don’t tread the proper line face criminal charges, including third-degree felony. Books that don’t toe the line must be removed from school libraries. Any questions?
Just a few quick thoughts, Governor. You’ve unleashed an avalanche of fear and legal absurdity into a struggling, underfunded system of public education, in the process crippling the learning process. What are you so afraid of? The truth?
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. He has been an editor at Tribune Media Services and a reporter, columnist and copy desk chief at Lerner Newspapers, a chain of neighborhood and suburban newspapers in the Chicago area. Koehler launched his column in 1999.
@ Robert Koehler
“… Just a few quick thoughts, Governor. You’ve unleashed an avalanche of fear and legal absurdity into a struggling, underfunded system of public education, in the process crippling the learning process. What are you so afraid of? The truth?”
Afraid, yes. And ashamed. And angry, to the point of rage. His supporters too. Obviously, just the people to arm to the teeth — while you make them drunk on triumphalism.
What could possibly go wrong?
It is human nature to hate the man whom you have hurt.
Jim Dana says
Deborah Coffey says
Bravo! Spot on.
History, all history must be viewed in the context of the era it occurred. It doesn’t mean this country was, is, or ever will be perfect. This divisive rhetoric is over played and needs to be stopped.
The woke movement has moved beyond the point of adding anything “good” to our lives.
Does anyone remember the Golden Rule?
Can you please define “woke”?
Sure, Joe , as the liberals believe? “Educated by the truth” I ask who’s truth?
As I believe? Everything offends everyone!
Woke is a joke
Get over it and take responsibility for yourself. Get involved and if nothing else…vote.
Work hard, play hard and hold the ones you love tight.
Do no harm and live by the Golden Rule. Really simple.
I’m not a holy roller but I believe we have lost our humanity and should return to religion (any religion) for some guidance.
Sadly no one listens anymore…too busy trying shout common sense down!
Michael Cocchiola says
Common sense would be to treat everyone with equality, tolerance, and compassion.
Common sense would be to learn from our mistakes and try mightily to not repeat them.
Common sense would be to take a man like DeSantis at his word and discern from that what’s in his heart… should he have one.
“Alternative Facts” that suit your “right winged” agenda. . . is that what we should believe? Certainly we can all see your level of education, therefore how is it that you profess any credibility at all? Posting FOX talking points convinces only the non-thinking.
1.) A Middle English form of week.
2.) Preterit and past participle of wake.
– The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.
I asked for your definition of “woke” just out of curiosity. DeSantis and the right-wingers throw the term around so much that it requires asking what they mean by it. In the case of “CRT” as an example, it’s been purposely turned into a catch-all phrase of derision completely divorced from it’s true meaning. You can find multiple examples of Trumpists spouting their opposition to “CRT” – but when directly asked what it is, they cannot define it. Some even admit they don’t know what it is – I saw a clip of that the other day.
I have the same opinion of “woke” – So, I’m not sure what you’re response even means, Ed –
Deborah Coffey says
There is NO “woke movement” except the one the Republicans made up to replace their being out and out RACISTS. It’s like all the other right wing lies, bigotry and pure hatred of anyone not a White man…CRT (not in any school except a few law schools), banning books called “parental rights”, punishing trans kids and all LGBTQ people in our community, no abortions, no expansion of Medicaid, calling teachers “groomers,” punishing anyone that speaks out against the “Dear Governor,” including Disney. The list is long and FASCIST. Do YOU know what Fascism is and that we’re fighting it and, NO we will not stop our rhetoric! We’re fighting fascism to keep DEMOCRACY! Is there a higher calling?
Bear Man says
All classroom lecture should be on zoom for all taxpayers to observe, There can be a week delay on the published feeds for security purposes, but all of us that are paying for this service should be allowed to see what we are paying for. The camera can be in the back of the classroom facing the teacher so that none of the childrens’ faces are shown.The police wear body cams…so should every other person making their living on the public’s dime.
Pierre Tristam says
Bear Man, if you have a mortgage-interest deduction on your house, we taxpayers are underwriting it. You should let the government install cameras in your house so we can see (god help us) what we’re paying for. You enjoy employee-provided health care? That’s subsidized by us taxpayers to the tune of a few hundred billion dollars a year. You should publish your health expenses and care plans so we know you’re spending judiciously. You got Covid aid checks in the last few years at taxpayers’ expense. Please provide itemized lists of how you spent the money. You can have a week’s delay of course.
A Concerned Observer says
There’s an old adage, “Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel”, but here goes…
Lace up your corrective shoes Mr. Tristam before your left leaning rant causes you to fall over. You have a caustic hatred for our governor. I get it. But not everyone in Flagler County and throughout Florida share your opinion. It’s time YOU get it.
I don’t know where you get the comment on “mortgage-interest deduction”, but I, and I suspect a great many other “tax payers” do not have one. Do I have “employee-provided health care?” Well, I guess I do. I issued a blank check to the US Government shortly after the 1968 Tet Offensive for everything, to include my life. They held that check for 20-years, for which I do receive a well-earned retirement (NOT a benefit). I then hired on with a company, working my way up from an lowly installer, living on the road for all but one weekend a month for over three years, finally relocating to the Home Office. After over 18-years of faithful service there, the company laid off every military veteran and relocated every non-US employee brought over from their respective countries on H2B visas because there “were no Americans qualified to do the job”. A policy later cancelled by President Trump (American workers thank You Sir!). As for Social Security, often referred to as a “benefit” rather than an earned entitlement, I paid into that program from the time I began my working life some 57 years ago at 16 and continued throughout all of my working life. Did I ever have any children in any public schools? No, I did not, but as you so eloquently pointed out, I paid into the fund nonetheless. Did my wife and I receive COVID checks? Yes we did, and we donated 100% of every one of them to charities and other personally known then struggling neighbors who needed it more than we did. So, you can add all of that to the “itemized lists of how you spent the money” you requested. Please be well advised that I am not the only one weary of your constant left leaning rant.
Pierre Tristam says
And here I was—selfish bastard that I am: I used my stimulus check to replace my family’s quarter-century old washer dryer—thinking the Flagler County I’ve been covering and living in for 22 years was an annex to People’s Park at Berkeley and everyone (except you) wanted my baby. I’ll turn in my his/her/him Congeniality Award at the Supreme Governor’s Office of Unquestionable Information (and give you a pass here since despite your unfailingly courageous anonymity on this site over the years, where you find me so tiresome year after year after year, you manage every once in a while, when you don’t get your dander up, which isn’t rare, to contribute an interesting perspective. I don’t begrudge you an off day.)
Pierre. . . absolutely “PRICELESS”. . . and right on!
Deborah Coffey says
DITTO a million times!
Doug Brown says
NUTS!! To you.DeSantis is trying to stop the leftist Marxist agenda from rotting the minds of our youth. My loard what a bunch of dummies on your staff.
Deborah Coffey says
You write “My loard” and we’re all a bunch of dummies?
Liberals love promoting oppression, hate and division!! It makes them feel necessary!! They can then make hollow promises to the woke weak sheep they convinced are oppressed!! Democrats are destroying America!
Doug and Mandy: Y’all really need to change the channel. I’m not a Democrat, but wow, you guys are off the rails! In fact, turn off the damned TV!
Did Liberals murder and burn down Rosewood? Or bomb four little girls in Birmingham? Or lynch hundreds of black folk in the South and Midwest? I think that most of the perpetrators of those acts tended to be white Christians who believed their God condoned their acts. Do you have facts that suggest otherwise?
Mandy and Doug,
If it is at all possible to have an intellectual discussion with you two. . . please begin with actual facts instead of your angry, partisan, un-original mud slinging. Also, if you do not appreciate the “award winning” journalism of Flaglerlive, please feel free to dive back into FOX and other right winged brainwashing media outlets where your mindless hate is better accepted. You will certainly not be missed in this commentary section.
I’m just curious, has anyone found DeSantis’ personally yet? It’s gotta be around here somewhere…
desantis charms people who loved goober and gomer.
The truth is far more dismal: ted bundy and al bundy.
Let the show begin. Donald’s new name for DeathSantis “Meatball”.
Republicans used to condemn the USSR and China for teaching revisionist history. Now they practice it.
All Americans with any intelligence must speak out and vote out autocratic leaders who denounce history and education. The new Republican Party.
Sheila Zinkerman, Citizens for Truth and Justice in Education says
DeSantis and his Department of Education (DOE) is whitewashing history, banning books by LGBTQ+ and Black authors, stacking school boards with MAGA members, silencing public school teachers and Administrators with threats of felony charges, and gutting public school budgets to fund mostly religious voucher schools.
That’s what DeSantis and his DOE are taking out of our public schools; what are they putting in? They’re hyping economic political viewpoints written by Austrian economists to 2nd-3rd grade public school children with the DOE approved children’s books The TuttleTwins and the Miraculous Pencil and The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law. These books are on the 2nd-3rd grade Florida Civic Literacy Reading List published by the DOE as part of the K-12 B.E.S.T. English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. They are not included in the district-adopted K-5 ELA instructional series.
The 12 book series has been labeled propaganda by respected reviewers since they hype political economic viewpoints and are written and illustrated to influence a child’s opinion of economic theories. They are not meant to encourage collaborative critical thinking with 2nd-3rd grade library books; Tuttle Twins author ends his books with a Glossary of Terms that include Central Planning, and Spontaneous Order. Furthermore, to the best of our knowledge and belief, the books are not professionally reviewed and are self-published which should raise the eyebrows of our certified public school media specialists and librarians.
The issue of these books being approved by the State DOE for 2nd-3rd graders needs to be brought to the forefront of any discussion of public education in Florida. The not so subtle reason for their existence should be called out for the propaganda that they are. The Tuttle Twins book series may be available for review in the Daytona Beach City Island Regional Library if they are not checked-out.
Deborah Coffey says
You’re doing great work, Pierre! We know this because you’re bringing every MAGAt out from under their rocks to take their rage out on you. Keep up the good work because these little people will never own the Libs.