ORLANDO, Fla. — critical race theory is banned in Florida, though it was never being taught in schools. And every Central Florida School district has told us it has no plans to divert from the approved state standards, and critical race theory was never part of that.
Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke bluntly against it during a news conference this summer.
“It’s basically teaching our kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race,” he said.
The concept was developed by legal scholars more than 30 years ago, based on the idea that racism was created and embedded in social, legal and political systems. The discussion around whether it should be taught in schools has sparked fiery debates at school board meetings, and prompted parents to bombard school boards and school board members with their opinions on the matter.
“It’s not partisan, it’s not left or right. It is just a tool in a way of analyzing history,” said FAMU Law Professor Jeremy Levitt.
This summer, when the state Board of Education met to vote on the ban, people on both sides showed up.
“The principals of professional conduct state, we shall not unreasonably restrain a student from independent action in pursuit of learning or shall not unreasonably deny a student access to diverse points of view,” said Florida Education Association member Kathy Bain.
She was followed by Kevin Bared, who leads pastors across the state through the Florida Family Policy Council.
“Facts are facts, and that is what needs emphasis, not an interpreted method like critical race theory,” Bared told board members. “History has interpretation, and interpretation is often times the birthplace of personal agendas and biases. It is simply common sense for teachers to be reminded that their job is of education and not indoctrination.”
Then the board was challenged to consider that critical race theory is needed in schools because it gives students an opportunity to get a full picture of American history and analyze it for themselves.
“I, for one, don’t want the Declaration of Independence to be taught verbatim without some critical thinking,” Bobby O’Connor said. “‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’ Well that’s a lie right there. At that time in our history in our nation, Black people were property and they weren’t even considered to be people. I don’t understand why we can’t teach the truth and let students develop their own ideas.”
Some educators told us that’s an example of how critical race theory works, using primary sources like the Declaration of Independence and examining those who signed it, some of whom also owned slaves, including Thomas Jefferson, a former president. And then, analyzing the role something in American history like slavery played in developing laws, the impact on the inequalities that exist in housing, criminal justice and even education over time.
critical race theory also leaves room for students to question the American history they’re being taught.
“Students will learn that Columbus discovered America. Well, how can you discover America if people [are] already living here,” Levitt questioned. “It doesn’t make any sense unless you don’t view those people as people, if you view them as savages or people who have been colonized. So, critical race theory, enters that conversation, to say, ‘Hold on a second, that’s not an accurate of history.’”
At least 10 states have banned or limited the teaching of critical race theory or similar concepts.
In Florida, the administrative rule states, in part, that Instruction may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, slavery, the civil rights movement. Examples that distort events include critical race theory and the controversial 1619 Project.
Human rights activist and University of Central Florida social justice professor Richard Lapchick has an office full of photos and accolades documenting his career, built partially on the importance of teaching about racism, sparked by a book he picked up when he was a kid in the 1960s.
“It literally changed my perspective on life. So I know how impactful it can be if we’re teaching that history in our schools. And if we’re not, then you’re not going to know the reality and the truth of America.”
©2021 Cox Media Group