- [Presenter] This is a production of WEDU PBS, Tampa, Saint Petersburg, Sarasota.
(tranquil music) - [Newscaster] Coming up right now on WEDU, it's Black History Month, and Florida is embroiled in a debate about teaching Black history in K-through-12 and college classes.
Is Black history being limited by the anti Critical Race Theory law, the governor's campaign against wokeism, and the increasing number of books being pulled from school libraries, or are we simply getting back to the basics, and teaching history and facts without ideology?
It's all coming up next on "Florida This Week."
(uplifting music) (uplifting music continues) - Welcome back, it's February, Black History Month, the time to look back at the 500-year history of Africans in the US and the Americas.
- [Newscaster] However, some people are worried that Black history is under attack here in Florida, especially by our governor, who's on a campaign against diversity programs, against what he calls wokeism, and against the graduate-level concept called Critical Race Theory.
- We're here today because we believe in education, not indoctrination.
We believe that every single student matters, every single student counts.
We are not going to categorize you based on your race.
- [Newscaster] Critical Race Theory, or CRT, says race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in the country's legal systems and policies.
In outlawing the teaching of CRT statewide, books in K-through-12 classrooms are being removed from the shelves for review, and some books are being banned outright, including dozens of K-through-12 math books last year, because they allegedly contained Critical Race Theory.
The governor also wants to block an AP high school course because it contains content he disagrees with.
- The issue is, we have guidelines and standards in Florida.
We want education, not indoctrination.
If you fall on the side of indoctrination, we're gonna decline.
If it's education, then we will do.
- [Newscaster] The college board did remove the parts of the AP course the DeSantis administration objected to, but the course has not yet won final approval in Florida.
The governor points out, that since 1994, Black history has been required in public schools, but according to CNN, many Florida schools are failing to teach that history.
Only 11 of the state's 67 county school districts meet all the benchmarks for teaching Black history that were set by the state's African American History Task Force.
The moves by the state to limit CRT and related concepts have led some elected officials, educators, and ministers to charge that the state is restricting Black history in our schools.
- Accurately teaching our history is not political until others make it so.
- That's right.
- How is it political to talk about the struggles we've endured?
How is it political to talk about and to remember our history?
The truth is the truth.
You can't change it.
- That's right.
- It simply is.
But if you try to sugar coat it, if you refuse to teach it accurately, then the truth can be suppressed, it can be diminished, and if we are not vigilant, even erased.
- Our panelists this week, Doctor Marvin Dunn, is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology from Florida International University, Barry Edwards is a political commentator and a pollster, and Ray Arsenault is the John Hope Franklin Professor of Southern History Emeritus at USF Saint Petersburg, and the author of numerous books, including "The Freedom Riders."
Thank you all for joining us.
We also reached out to the governor's office, the Secretary of Education, the co-sponsors of the anti Critical Race Theory bills, Hillsborough and Polk school board members, conservative activists, and several others, to take part in this debate about the teaching of Black history.
All were unavailable, or they did not respond, or turned us down.
The question for this week is, is Black history being fairly taught in Florida schools from kindergarten through the college, through college, rather, and the university level, or is it under assault?
And Doctor Dunn, let's start with you.
Is Black history under assault, or is it being fairly taught?
- It is under assault, and it's very disturbing.
I don't think one man can erase 500 years of Black history in this country.
DeSantis will fail in this.
What bothers me most about it is that it's such a cheap shot.
He's using Black history as a causal to get to the White House.
This is not about our history.
This is about him appealing to the right wing of the Republican Party, and it appears to be working.
I don't know why Republicans seem to need a monster every time we come around to a presidential election.
Now we got the woke monster.
Before, we've had other monsters that have come out of the Republican efforts to win the White House.
DeSantis will not kill our history.
Our history will be taught.
We will find ways to go around him, but he will not destroy 500 years of Black history.
- Barry, what's your take on this?
Is Black history being suppressed, or is it being fairly taught in Florida schools?
- I think Black history is being fairly taught in schools.
In fact, what I did, as preparation for this, I went and found some of my friends that hoard books like I do, and save our books from high school and college.
The curricula from 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and five years ago, and a year ago, is basically the same.
What the difference is, is instead of having, talking about Black history, we're talking about Black studies, which the governor banned, like the intersectionality and oppression, which is more opinion rather than history.
And that's where the bias, I think, is, and where the argument is.
It's not over Black history.
I don't know any Conservative, and I talked to 10 state Senators, Republicans, that don't want Black history taught.
And they want the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Several of them mentioned that there's a memorial, that they're for a memorial, Black slavery memorial, with the chains, and people on the ground.
It's gonna be at the Capitol complex.
The governor is trying to expand that so they get that Holocaust, that, and one for the boys of Dozier, built at the Capitol.
So they're not trying to excuse the past.
What they don't want is woke California ideology about intersectionality, that all certain people are oppressors, in the curriculum, which is what the AP board took out of the class.
So I think it's being taught, and I think this is an overreaction by the left.
But also, the people of Florida are reacting positively.
The governor got 4/10 of a point win four years ago.
He got 19.4% this year.
He won 28 out of 31 school board races that he involved himself in this last cycle.
So, the people are responding overwhelmingly to him, and his side of the story is not being told by the mainstream press.
- Ray Arsenault, let's go to you to the general question, is Black history being fairly taught in Florida schools, or is it being suppressed?
- Well, I would say it's certainly not being taught enough, and we haven't reached the state where, I think the authors of the bill back in 1994 were trying to get African American history really integrated into the larger curriculum, and really giving it its due.
But what Barry just said, I think, is really off base.
I don't think the returns are in about how the citizens of Florida, what they feel about what Governor DeSantis has been doing.
But I think he's really gone off the deep end.
It's frightening, what's been happening.
It's really, I would think it would be more appropriate for an authoritarian, or even a totalitarian society, for a governor, or any politician, to meddle in curriculum matters like this.
I mean, he should hire good professionals, professional educators, and let them do their jobs, instead of making these distinctions between ideological history and what he calls real history, facts.
The facts never speak for themselves.
All history involves opinion.
You get answers because you ask certain questions, and people ask different questions.
And history is always being revised.
Black history is quite different now than it was 20 or 25 years ago.
A lot of advances have been made.
Thousands of people have devoted countless hours to studying African American history.
And it's a real rich tapestry, and it's ironic that we have a governor here, playing politics with it, really, I think, interfering in the lives, and really terrorizing teachers and students.
I just don't know where we're going with this, with this, and the attack on Critical Race Theory, the terrorizing of New College, of trying, inappropriately, to turn it into a model school, like Hillsdale, a private, Conservative Christian college.
It's just incredible.
Years ago, people in Florida, when we got criticized, we'd say, "Well, thank God for Alabama and Mississippi.
We're bad, but they're worse."
Now, I think people are saying, "Thank God for Florida."
We've really become a laughing stock around the nation, but I hope we can (audio cuts out).
- Barry, you said that the governor only wants to stop things like intersectionality and wokeism.
Define for us what it means to be woke.
Tell us what it means.
Give us a legal definition of woke.
- Well, I don't know what the legal definition, but the definition that I use, and most of the people I talk to, is wokeism is that you're aware that there is, that the fabric of society, of western society, is built as an oppressive body to oppress people of color, or minorities, or people of some disadvantageousness.
- Do you think that- - I mean, but it was.
Wasn't it western civilization that brought us the slave trade?
Wasn't it western civilization that raped India?
You wanna teach history based upon the western civilization?
Be careful about that.
- Well, it was- - Wait.
- When you say the people of Florida are behind this governor on this, you mean the White people of Florida.
Black people in Florida do not like this one bit, sir.
- Well, I can tell you- - When you say, but I'm not finished.
You said, or the governor said you can teach slavery, we can teach slavery, but we can't teach that it was evil.
For a mother to have a baby snatched from her and sold in slavery, we can talk about that, we can teach about that, but we can't say that it was bad.
We can talk about burning people in ovens during World War II, but we can't say that that was bad.
When DeSantis taught school, he told his students that abortion was wrong.
Whose agenda was he pushing at that time?
- Barry, how would you respond?
- Well, first of all, I don't think that there's, I think that the media has been trolled by him.
There is nothing in the law that says you can't say that slavery was evil, or the Holocaust is evil.
What you can't say is that you, Doctor Arsenault, or I, were responsible for that.
But as far as western civilization, it was interesting, I was at The British Museum two months ago in England, and I went to a lecture, and they were talking about colonialism.
And it was some people from, and Doctor Arsenault would probably be better at this, apparently, in 1500 BC, Egypt got conquered, and he was talking, his people were Abyssinians, or something like that, and got conquered, and he was talking about the colonialism of Egypt.
So we've had these problems from the dawn of civilization.
We've had slavery since the dawn of civilization.
So, we're not saying that those aren't evil.
Those need to be taught, and they need to be condemned.
And the governor condemns slavery.
He wants to have a museum or a monument, at the Capitol grounds, that shows that slavery's pretty brutal, a guy, with a chain, on the ground.
And those aren't positive tropes of whitewashing slavery.
But I can tell you this, I talked to a lot of Black ministers, and I didn't talk to a single Black minister who liked the queer intersectionality part of the AP course.
None of them liked that.
And so they had, several of them, represented thousands - Now, hold on.
- of people - Let's talk about that for a moment.
- Okay, let's - in the Tampa Bay area.
- get Doctor Dunn's.
- DeSantis is using that.
- Doctor Dunn, go ahead.
- Let's talk about that for a moment.
DeSantis is using that.
If I had put together this AP program, I would've put that in, maybe not by that term, but I would've put that in, and I'll tell you why.
If you're a Black person, and you are gay, or have gender issues, you are in great danger in the Black community.
There is more hatred of gay people in the Black community than any other section of our country, than among Whites.
So, why should we not understand why it is that there is such a resistance to homosexuality and gay life in the Black community?
A lot of that comes from our churches, the way we were raised in churches, Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, but some of that stuff comes from Africa.
Some of that anti-woke stuff, anti-homosexual, anti-gay stuff comes from Africa.
Shouldn't we understand how that got into our society, how that got into our culture, and how we can get rid of it?
But DeSantis is saying, "Oh, they're using that to groom your children to become queer."
It is so evil, so nasty, that he's doing that.
- Let me ask Ray Arsenault.
Ray, talk about the importance of gay and lesbian people in the African Civil Rights movement.
I'm thinking of James Baldwin, I'm thinking of Audre Lorde, the poet, and I'm thinking of Bayard Rustin.
- Yeah, well, I think, I mean, unfortunately, a lot of academic speech just ends into jargon.
And I think most of us don't like it.
Intersectionality is a word that, I think, puts people off, but the concept is valid, that gender and race come together.
That it's a different situation for a Black woman than a Black man, or for a gay African American than a straight one.
And I think you've gotta wonder about a program like Governor DeSantis's, that is banning books, that's playing with the lives of teachers and students.
It violates, I think, many of the precepts that we've associated with American democracy.
I just, I can't imagine anybody, really, when they think more deeply about what he's doing, about what's happening at New College, what's happening with Black history.
Here we are in Black History Month, and people are terrified that their words, their books, are gonna be censored, they're gonna be disadvantaged because they wanna try to find the truth.
I mean, history is a truth-telling discipline.
It's not a happy thing.
You can't teach African American history without making some people uncomfortable.
And that involves things like Critical Race Theory.
You don't have to call it that.
It's an unfortunate term, I suspect.
Most historians don't use it.
It's really a purview of law professors.
But teaching systemic racism is, I mean, I've been doing this my entire career.
I mean, Governor DeSantis is turning me into a criminal.
It's a good thing that I retired.
I'd probably be behind bars before long because I couldn't do what I've done.
I couldn't have written the dozen books that I've written about race without making some people uncomfortable.
You need to shake people up, so that they reorder their thoughts, and think things through.
You don't proselytize them.
You don't force them to come out in the same place that you do, but you want them to consider all the options, and to take an intellectual approach to history.
- Well, Barry, the governor does say, well, hold on just a sec.
- Where is it happening in Florida, being told to feel bad because they're White?
Where is that happening in a Florida school?
I've been in classrooms in Florida for 40 years.
I have never seen a teacher, heard a teacher, tell a White student, "You need to feel guilty for what happened 200 years ago."
That is not happening in schools in Florida.
This man is making it all up.
It's a lie.
- Okay, Barry, go ahead.
The governor says he doesn't want people to feel uncomfortable because of history.
Ray says that history does make people feel uncomfortable.
And then Doctor Dunn said, "Look, it's not happening in schools.
People are not being made to feel uncomfortable."
What do you say?
- So, I think there's two distinctions.
One is, Doctor Arsenault is right.
And history does make you uncomfortable.
I'm British, I don't like the way that Tudors treated people in the 1500s.
Thank God we've evolved.
And I wish Saudi Arabia would not have those criminal justice practices today.
But the difference is not making you uncomfortable, it's making you feel like you're responsible.
And there are incidents, there have been cited instances, I've been to schools, and we have the instance over in, I think it's in Clearwater, where a teacher was saying that if you're White, you're part of the oppressor class.
I don't think I'm part of the oppressor class.
I've run 30 or more races for African Americans, for the legislature that were Democrats.
So, I think that's the distinction.
And I think that's a distinction with a difference.
- A teacher said that.
Therefore, you have one teacher making a complaint, and therefore, you need a law passed to have schools protected from this sort of thing?
This is not happening in Florida schools.
This is all made up.
It's a lie to get DeSantis to the White House.
It's not happening.
Critical Race Theory is not being taught in any school in Florida.
So why do we need to have this law, sir?
It's not being done.
Why do we need the law?
- Well, the law, the AP class dealt with, like I said, and there's a reason why 22% of African Americans under 35 moved toward the Republican Party in the last four years.
And part of that is the stuff that was in the AP class.
- I asked you a question.
Where is Critical Race Theory being taught - So it's not in public schools in Florida?
- just White people - Where is that happening?
- that are feeling this way, but there are isolated instances all over the state, and school board members that say these things, and we have Democratic candidates running for office, that talk about this stuff.
So they've got to be responsible.
- The law based on isolated incidents.
We have a law being passed based on isolated incidents, because a teacher said this in some school some place.
- There's been no instances - And now we need a law.
- about people being thrown out of bathrooms, - Bull.
- yet the left wanted - It's political.
- to have bills - It's to get DeSantis to the White House.
- talking about bathroom accommodations, public accommodations.
- Okay, Ray Arsenault.
- So it's gotta be on the both sides.
I don't mind having a standard, but let's do it on both sides.
- All right, Ray.
- Either we're gonna be preemptive or not preemptive.
- Ray Arsenault?
- Interject something here.
I recommend to you a wonderful article in "New Republic" this week by Brynn Tannehill, who sort of sounds the alarm about what DeSantis has been doing.
And he talks about the problem of these particular laws.
He talks about what he calls strategic ambiguity, which creates what we used to call, when we studied the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, institutionalized anxiety.
In other words, it's hard for a teacher, or a student, to know whether they're violating the law or not.
It's almost deliberately vague, and it has a chilling effect, in the same way that McCarthyism did in the 1950s, where the government didn't really have to fire people, but people did it themselves because they were so terrified of what might happen to them if they associated with people who were somehow pink or red.
And I think that's what we're seeing here.
It's just, it's not the kind of atmosphere you want, to encourage an education.
Education, people should feel free to explore all the angles.
And again, when you're banning books, when you're ham-stringing teachers, they don't know what they can assign.
It's just an incredible situation.
I just, I fear, as Tannehill argues in this article, that we're destroying the public education system in Florida.
We're threatening to, anyway.
- Barry, I want you to respond to that, but Richard Corcoran, the former Education Commissioner, says, "I've censored, or fired, or terminated numerous teachers."
He said, "There was an entire classroom memorialized to Black Lives Matter, and we made sure that that teacher was terminated."
Is there intimidation of teachers when it comes to teaching Black history?
What do you say?
- I don't know about that incident.
And before the termination, hopefully there was done some counseling.
I do agree with Doctor Arsenault.
There is an ambiguity here, which placates people on both, on your side of, on the right side of the aisle, so that you think you're getting something done, but maybe not really doing anything.
But it does put people on the left or in the middle, who are actually just doing regular teaching, it does make them nervous, and create anxiety.
That's wrong, we need to be specific about what's either permissible, or what's not permissible.
But it's certainly permissible for the governor of the State of Florida.
Elections have consequences.
When the state attorney here was removed, I was told, elections matter, duly elected.
He was duly elected.
He is the chief executive officer.
He appoints the Board of Education, which hires the Commissioner of Education, and the Legislature sets the curriculum.
So I think it's highly appropriate.
And if you don't like what he's doing, then vote him outta office.
- Okay, Doctor Dunn, what would you say to that?
The governor won the election.
He has the right to do this.
- I would say, to any young professor, coming out to go to work, to make a decision as to where to go, Florida would be the last state on my list, thanks to this man.
If I were a new teacher, trying to decide where I want to go and teach, Florida would be the last place on my list.
I gotta go there and hide my textbooks, and have the governor reaching over me to determine whether or not I'm gonna get tenure?
Florida is going down the educational tube because of what this man is doing.
Who wants to come here and work under these circumstances?
A lot of teachers are leaving Florida because of DeSantis.
He is hurting our next generation of young people by punishing our educational system to get to the White House.
- Now, I'm gonna echo Doctor Dunn here, or probably would, is, one of the problems that my friends on the right don't realize is that Doctor Arsenault is a product that people are competing for, not only in Florida, but in Georgia, New York, and California.
And so, the Ray Arsenault, for 20 years from now, is not gonna come here, 'cause he thinks there's more problems with tenure.
He's gonna go to California, or Texas, someplace else.
So we are hurting ourselves in the long run because tenure and academic freedom at the college level are very important.
And I think that's something that the governor really needs to step back on, like at New College, and be cautious about, because you're not gonna get a Ray Arsenault 20 years from now from Florida.
He's gonna be emeritus from Texas.
- Ray Arsenault?
- I'm glad to hear you say that, Barry, but I think it goes beyond that.
A governor can comment on curriculum, he can have his opinions, but he can't willfully violate the First Amendment, and ignore academic freedom, and to meddle in the curriculum in the way that he has, nor can the people who work for him.
I think it's just, we, teachers are professionals.
They're trained to deal with curriculum, and to give students what they need, or what they want.
And this is just getting in the way, in a way that's just, it just sort of violates all the tenets of American democracy.
Horace Mann thought public education would be the wellspring of democracy.
Not this kind of education, that when Governor DeSantis defines anything that he doesn't like as ideological, that somehow, something that doesn't fit with his notion of things, he just simply dismisses it.
And, again, this is a kind of book burning, repressive approach to education that I think is just so wrong, and so hurtful to so many people.
And I think Florida's gonna take a long time to recover from this, as you suggested, Gary.
I think a lot of people, now, it'll be very difficult to hire the best and the brightest in Florida, when they know this is going on.
- All right, Barry, what do you say?
It's an assault on academic freedom and the First Amendment, what the governor's doing.
- And I think there's one distinction I wanna draw here, is there's a difference between K through 12 and the universities.
I think that the governor has been totally appropriate on the K through 12, and setting standards, because children need to be protected.
But I think, at the university level, we want all this competition, I want all the books.
I'm very nervous about not having books allowed at the university level.
So I think that they've been overly, I think the right, the governor's been correct, K through 12, but incorrect on the college level.
I'm a little nervous at New College.
My grand niece goes there.
People are self-selectors.
I went to a big state university, 'cause I like that.
She went to a small one because she's more comfortable there.
That's where they're comfortable.
So why take away that part of the environment that they're comfortable with?
- And Doctor Dunn, we only have a minute left, but New College is one of the first targets of the governor, when it comes to closing off diversity, and kind of a liberal arts education, and turning it into what he describes as a classical education.
Do you think, though, that, I mean, is it just a New College problem, or is the problem university-wide?
- It's university-wide.
It's an attack on the entire system.
And frankly, I think the governor has touched a live wire that's gonna burn.
Most Americans, White, Black, progressive, conservative, do not want the government telling professors what to teach and how to teach it.
Most Americans are opposed to that.
He's gonna get burned outside of Florida with that.
It may work in north Florida, but it may not work in Michigan, or Pennsylvania, or Ohio, or other places that he needs to become president.
- All right.
- Big mistake.
- Doctor Marvin Dunn, Barry Edwards, Doctor Ray Arsenault, thank you for a vigorous discussion.
It's great to have you on the program.
Thank you for coming on.
- Thank you.
- And thank you for joining us.
Send us your comments at FTW@WEDU.org.
You can view this and past shows online at WEDU.org or on the PBS app.
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And from all of us here at WEDU, have a great weekend.
(uplifting music) (uplifting music continues) (uplifting music continues) - [Presenter] "Florida This Week" is a production of WEDU, who is solely responsible for its content.
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