Florida’s Educational Reform: Freedom or Repression?

Until last year, no American politician has had the guts to tackle the plague of wokery in our schools. This has changed—in Florida, of all places, home of Key West, South Beach, and Fort Lauderdale!

If the last few years have proved nothing else across the globe, it should be that the two major agents of societal corruption in the West—apart from the retreat from preaching dogma and morals on the part of the various Christian Bodies, to include, in far too many cases, our own Church—have been the Judiciaries and Academia. Nor, for the most part, have leaders of a “Conservative” orientation seen fit to take on those two sacred cows. A man like Ronald Reagan might push back a few of the Left’s political and economic efforts for a time, but in the meantime, a great many judges and professors continue to poison and corrupt society in general and the young in particular. 

The fruit this process has born is evident now to both sides. This is why Trump’s judicial appointments aroused such hysteria in the breasts of his opponents—although, save Roe v. Wade’s quashing, they need not be that upset. It is for Viktor Orban, who has taken on the omnipotence of these two groups and made efforts to pin back their ears a bit, that the greatest amount of opprobrium has been reserved. His opponents know all too well what shall happen to their plans if their major tools are no longer all-powerful; thus, they defend their unearned privileges under the mantle of judicial and academic freedom as viciously as possible.

Leaving aside the Judiciary, it is the educational issue in the United States that is perhaps the most filled with irony. American education is heavily funded by the taxpayer; not simply the network of public elementary and secondary schools across the country, but the many Community and State Colleges. In addition, a great many nominally private schools receive extensive government funding. According to OpenTheBooks.Com, “The Ivy League was the recipient of $25.73 billion worth of federal payments during this period [2010-2015]: contracts ($1.37 billion), grants ($23.9 billion) and direct payments—student assistance ($460 million).”

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Needless to say, all of the government money that goes into education comes from the taxes of the citizenry, to say nothing of extra monies (tuition, etc.) that often must come directly from the pockets of parents. Now, when spending money on anything, there are two criteria: a) does one really want the good or service offered? and b) does it actually do what the purveyor claims for it? A good look at government-subsidized education in these United States would suggest that neither is being met.

For a long time now, Catholic and other parents have been concerned that the education on offer in public schools will indoctrinate their children with political, cultural, and sexual attitudes that the parents do not hold with and do not want their children exposed to—let alone be made to pay for (although, since it all comes from tax money and there are no rebates, parents using alternatives in essence undergo double taxation). 

With the rise of LGBTQ+ influence in education, this has become a burning issue. In secondary and university education, “diversity, equity, and inclusion” courses, with their dreary narrative of history being a chronicle of oppression by white males against people of color, women, animals, and plants have become predominant, with departments and degrees in such stuff being de riguere for any college or university that wishes to be seen as “with it”—and to get ever more federal and state funding. Again, this is not what many parents want for their children. 

Partly this is because they do not want their children’s points of view ruined. But there is more. When a student is being taught drivel, they are not being taught something useful. As early as the 1950s, the matter of “Why Johnny Can’t Read” was bandied about. Decades of teaching ever less in the way of history, literature, civics, math, writing skills—and ever more in the way of “values-free education”—has produced generations of children of all ages who, for the most part, are incapable of either academic or practical endeavor. But they are able to parrot the drivel their so-called “educators” have inculcated in them. Thus, for many, the transition from seeking safe spaces to exploding in Antifa and/or BLM-fueled fury has been fairly seamless.

For some time, of course, parents have backed a network of private Catholic and Classical academies and a handful of small colleges where discerning folk can send their children in some hopes of their emerging as educated adults. But that leaves both the plight of the great majority and what amounts to the theft of tax money by the education industry. Until last year, no American politician has had the guts to tackle it. This has changed—in Florida, of all places, home of Key West, South Beach, and Fort Lauderdale!

On March 28, 2022, both houses of the State Legislature passed the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, which took effect on the following July 1. Enthusiastically signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, what upset the Establishment the most was that the act 

prohibits public schools from having “classroom discussion” or giving “classroom instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade or in any manner deemed to be against state standards in all grades; prohibits public schools from adopting procedures or student support forms that maintain the confidentiality of a disclosure by a student, including of the gender identity or sexual orientation of a student, from parents; and requires public schools to bear all the costs of all lawsuits filed by aggrieved parents.

Reaction from the usual suspects was, as one might have guessed, swift. But Walt Disney Corporation waded in against it, leading the Governor to deprive Disney of its governmental control of the region around Walt Disney World. These privileges bestowed upon the entertainment giant in 1968 had been granted when the area was mostly undeveloped. This, in turn, led to a fierce fight in the courts and legislature, which resulted in something of a Disney victory, since the legislature feared that the expenses heretofore picked up by the Corporation would fall to Florida government. 

The most amusing element to the final agreement was this:

if a perpetual term is deemed invalid, a royal lives clause would be used in its place: namely, the agreement “shall continue until twenty-one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England, living as of the date of this agreement.”

Even a Monarchist such as this writer was a bit amused at that.

In any case, this defeat did not stop the Governor and legislature Republicans from moving up the next rung of the ladder to Florida Senate Bill 266 and House Bill 999. According to Wikipedia, 

Under the legislation, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs and certain college majors relating to DEI would be eliminated or heavily restricted; the legislation phrases such courses as being based on “unproven, theoretical, or exploratory content.” The legislation would prohibit state universities from including DEI and political identity filters within higher education hiring processes, and bans the usage of critical race theory in hiring. 

The bill was passed on May 15 of this year and will go into effect on July 1.

If the opposition to the first bill—complete with walkouts and protests—was huge, that to this one was greater. It brought forth a protest from the American Council of Learned Societies that deserves to be quoted in extenso

The American Council of Learned Societies and the signatories below protest this proposed legislation and call on citizens to recognize the danger it poses to higher education in this country.

The promise of academic freedom has played a key role in the growth and strength of higher education in the United States. Thanks to the protection of the free discovery and exchange of knowledge and of faculty decision-making, American colleges and universities have long been the envy of the world. These institutions are valued for the basic and applied research that they conduct; for their role as anchors of industry and of local communities; for providing equitable access to opportunity, increasing over time, for those who have not had such access, including women, people of color, and first-generation college students; and for their capacity to prepare students to be thinking and feeling people in a world larger than their hometowns and states.

The bill also threatens to take higher education in Florida several steps backward in terms of access and quality. In a country where nearly half of all undergraduates receive federal financial aid, Florida’s loss of accreditation and of federal dollars would risk preventing thousands of students from going to college. The bill states that “banned” coursework and activities advancing diversity and equity cannot be offered even with independent funding: this bodes ill for fellowships and grants for faculty and graduate students.

Academic freedom means freedom of thought, not the state-mandated production of histories edited to suit one party’s agenda in the current culture wars.  

What makes this particular diatribe so amusing to anyone familiar with today’s academic scene is that the education industry represented by the ACLS has spent the past decade or two at least doing its level best to suppress freedom of thought, as all too many conservative academics and visiting lecturers have learned to their cost—even to the latter having mobs whipped up against them by professors. To ensure, “the state-mandated production of histories edited to suit one party’s agenda in the current culture wars” is precisely what they have specialized in. One cannot help but suspect that it is only pure freedom of thought of which they approve; and it is their party’s agenda in the current culture wars which they are defending, not some objective truth.  The education industry represented by the ACLS has spent the past decade or two at least doing its level best to suppress freedom of thought, as all too many conservative academics and visiting lecturers have learned to their cost.Tweet This

As an example, their website boasts about an event in 2020: 

On Thursday, December 17, 2020, the American Council of Learned Societies presented the latest event in its Humanistic Knowledge in the 21st Century series, “How Do We Get There? Accelerating Diversity in Slow-To-Change Humanities Fields.” A global audience of close to 400 people logged in to this Zoom event to hear a candid discourse exploring the history, current state, and solutions addressing humanities fields that, despite years of institutional efforts in diversity, remain mostly white and male.

As an example, Philip Ewell, “Associate Professor of music theory, Hunter College of the City University of New York and 2020 ACLS Fellow for his work in critical-race studies in music,” declared: 

The curricula that have been handed down in music theory are absolutely representative of that 19th and 20th century white supremacy and patriarchy…[and] is still deeply, deeply rooted in that past…I’m critical of classes that literally feature 100% white men to be studied. I’m critical of placement exams that place your commitment—let’s be blunt—your commitment to whiteness and your commitment, maleness…because they are the things that people of color look at [and] say to themselves, “Why would I want to go to graduate school in that when the only thing it’s going to do is police and enforce the whiteness and maleness of the field?”

Now, to be sure, this is an opinion—something which academics, like everyone else, are free to have. But if a majority of Florida’s (or any other state’s) taxpayers do not agree with it, why should they have to pay for their children to be exposed to it—especially if dissenting voices are to be stifled? If an entirely even playing field is required, would it not then be a wise move to take government out of the education industry altogether and let them sink or swim on their own merits?

The other element in this saga to be considered is Governor DeSantis himself. He has just declared his candidacy for the presidency of these United States. Apart from his willingness to take on this foulest of sacred cows, his record on abortion, Covid, and the like is quite good. After 62 years, and seeing the lost opportunities of the Reagan and Trump eras, I am not looking for a political messiah; but so far, his record looks good. If he has a Republican Congress, perhaps the billions going to the Ivy League will be the next thing to be revisited.

Back in 2002, at the beginning of the Forever War, this writer speculated in print about what effect the creation of a whole new generation of combat veterans might have on the political life of the country; he had no idea, of course, that the wars would go on for two decades. It may well be that the rise of DeSantis is the first indication of an answer to that question. Convincing them that they were fighting and their friends dying for Wokery may be a hard sell.


  • Charles Coulombe

    Charles A. Coulombe is a contributing editor at Crisis and the magazine’s European correspondent. He previously served as a columnist for the Catholic Herald of London and a film critic for the National Catholic Register. A celebrated historian, his books include Puritan’s Empire and Star-Spangled Crown. He resides in Vienna, Austria and Los Angeles, California.

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