Red scare: Florida is not finished making laws about what K-12 students learn

A new state law requires public schools to observe the newly created “Victims of Communism Day” on Nov. 7.
By: | May 11, 2022

After striking “divisive” content from math textbooks, Florida has added a required topic to high school social studies: the evils of communism.

High school students will learn about communist regimes and “how victims suffered at the hands of these regimes” for at least 45 minutes in their required U.S. government class beginning in the 2023-24 school year. In publicizing the requirement, the state highlighted atrocities committed by past and current dictators such as Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot and Nicolás Maduro.

Public schools also are now required to observe the newly created “Victims of Communism Day” on Nov. 7. “Honoring the people that have fallen victim to communist regimes and teaching our students about those atrocities is the best way to ensure that history does not repeat itself,” Gov. Ron DeSantis. “While it’s fashionable in some circles to whitewash the history of communism, Florida will stand for truth and remain as a beachhead for freedom.”

It’s the latest in a series of new laws that give Florida state officials more control over what is taught in public schools. In the civics arena, this week’s measure follows a set of  “patriotic” social studies standards introduced last summer. Under a new high school curriculum, teachers must conduct comparative discussions of political ideologies “that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States, such as communism and totalitarianism.” The state also created a library of “Portraits in Patriotism” featuring the stories of people who have demonstrated civic-mindedness after fleeing persecution in Cuba, Venezuela and other countries.

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Just this March, DeSantis generated more K-12 controversy by signing the “Parental Rights in Education” law that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. In all higher grades, teaching about LGBTQ topics must be “age-appropriate,” a standard the law does not define clearly. The law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, also requires schools to notify parents when there is a change in services schools are providing children with regard to their mental, emotional or physical health or well-being.

Last month, the Florida Department of Education rejected 54 math textbooks for “references to critical race theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core and the unsolicited addition of social-emotional learning (SEL) in mathematics,” the agency said. At the time, officials released few details about why the textbooks were scrapped. Last week, however, the agency released 6,000 pages of comments from its textbook reviewers, among whom was a conservative activist who is a member of Moms for Liberty, an organization that has advocated the banning of library books, The New York Times reported.

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