DeSantis gets colleges to vow not to teach things they weren’t teaching

by Scott Maxwell

Florida has become the land of boogeymen — the place where politicians whip up fictional foes to stir hysteria among gullible followers and then vow to fight these nonexistent enemies.

In the latest example, Gov. Ron DeSantis pressured state college presidents into signing a statement where they vowed to exile Critical Race Theory indoctrination from their campuses — as well as lessons that teach students “that systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed.”

Once upon a time, people who heard such a thing would’ve used the brains God gave them to demonstrate a little critical thinking. They would’ve asked themselves: Wait, are Florida’s community colleges really teaching that right now?

Most Central Floridians, after all, are at least somewhat familiar with long-time, respected institutions like Valencia College and Seminole State.

You know what those schools teach? Math. English. And a whole boatload of vocational skills for careers in manufacturing, construction and IT.

You know what they don’t teach in their carpentry classes? That “systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed.”

I was pretty sure of that anyway. But since we’re now living in the land of boogeymen, I decided to reach out to the presidents of both institutions to ask how many of those classes they had been offering.

None, said both.

“Seminole State does not teach any such content in our courses,” Seminole State President Georgia L. Lorenz responded in a statement. “The College’s curriculum, like the other 27 Colleges in the Florida College System, is made up primarily of general education courses to prepare students for transfer to a university and workforce education programs.”

Workforce education, eh? How terrifying.

Valencia offered similar thoughts with a spokeswoman saying: “We have no courses with learning outcomes related to critical race theory.”

Yet after these presidents agreed not to teach classes they already weren’t teaching, DeSantis’ education commissioner called it a “bold statement.”

About as bold as me declaring that never again will zombie unicorns be allowed within the Orlando city limits. You’re welcome.

It’s amazing how easily some people are played. Especially when matters of race are involved.

Experience (and a boatload of emails) have taught me that most of those obsessed with Critical Race Theory don’t have the foggiest clue what it is. They’ve been told by some fear-mongering pundit or politician that it’s about teaching Black kids and White kids to hate each other. Nonsense.

But let’s assume some teachers at community colleges have talked about things like implicit bias — the notion that most of us have some generalizations or stereotypes about others.

That concept is hardly radical. Even Scientific American has written about implicit bias, explaining that it “doesn’t make you a racist, sexist or whatever-ist. It means your brain is noticing patterns and making generalizations.”

The key, the authors said, is to try to raise awareness to think about how we view things.

I don’t think that concept terrifies most rational, thinking people. But you know who does find such conversations scary? Intellectual snowflakes; people afraid of introspection and any thought that doesn’t conform with their existing beliefs.

But just for argument’s sake, let’s take this a step further. Let’s say there is some radical, rogue teacher up at the Palatka campus of St. Johns River College who has told students that White people should be ashamed of their racist heritage and should consider making reparation payments to their fellow Black students in the middle of history class.

(This, by the way, is what’s known as “tyranny of the anecdote” — when someone gives you a rare and extremist example and tries to get you to believe it’s the norm. It’s a staple tactic at some “news” networks.)

Anyway, let’s say that actually happened. You know what I’d expect? School leaders to handle that situation. I wouldn’t start throwing tantrums and demanding new laws and that every college president sign a new statement vowing to exorcise such thoughts.

And it’s interesting to note that Florida’s tyranny-of-the-anecdote crusaders seem to agree with me … when it’s convenient anyway.

Earlier this month, the investigative website Popular Information reported on a teacher in Escambia County whose students say she has railed against interracial marriage. One student said the teacher told them that the Bible “says that it is a sin for races to mix together and that Whites are meant to be with Whites and Blacks are meant to be with Blacks.” Other students gave similar accounts. The parent of one student also wrote a letter saying the teacher “has expressed her utter distaste for homosexuals to her students.”

Sounds troubling, right? Yet do you know how many of these we-must-crack-down-on-divisive-indoctrination politicians screamed bloody murder about this? None.

Frankly, I don’t think this disturbing-sounding case requires a new state statute. I think school administrators should handle it. Not every troubling anecdote requires a new law or more censorship.

But for those demanding censorship of lessons that aren’t even being taught, explain to the rest of us why you aren’t demanding action about this.

New ideas, even ones I don’t agree with, don’t scare me. Not nearly as much as the people who try to silence them, whitewash history and paint distorted pictures of what this state’s respected colleges have been doing for years just to stir up more division.

Scott Maxwell is the Orlando Sentinel’s “Taking Names” columnist.