Florida's 'Stop Woke Act' Turns Education Into Indoctrination | Opinion

The books are missing from schools in Florida.

Where there was once overflowing bookshelves containing accounts of history, culture, gender, class, and humanity, there are now desolate voids. Where there were once passionate educators, there are now frightened and paranoid academics updating their resumes in preparation to flee a sinking ship: Florida Education.

Speaking out against the attempts to rewrite history or suppress the voices of American minorities shouldn't be a risk to educator's lives or careers, but recently, Ron DeSantis, in his fascistic quest to remove critical thinking from higher education, is censoring objective learning and replacing it with nationalist propaganda. Objective and academic freedom, ideally, promotes thinking critically by identifying personal biases, persuasive techniques, dishonesties, and fallacies within rhetorical situations.

Critical Race Theory, which is the objective study of how race influences a culture, is being branded as an insidious traitor to democracy. And like CRT, the study of learned gender identity, or Gender Studies, is also being politically weaponized. These educational analytic theories are used to study and critique historical, societal, and cultural happenings—they don't have political leanings or threatening inclinations. Educators, who are devoted to nurturing minds for the betterment of our students and our culture, are now being treated as enemies of America.

Fear of 'Woke' M&M's
Packages of M&M's for sale are seen in a store on Jan. 24, in Miami, Florida. Mars, Inc., announced that its multi-colored cast of candy cartoon spokespeople will be retiring effective immediately, and will be replaced by comedian and Saturday Night Live alum Maya Rudolph. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Florida's Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, doesn't want an educated populace and that is telling. His war on education isn't to defend American morals as he claims, but to attack critical thinking directly. An educated individual would acknowledge the past and present faults of our nation and want to see real social change now. They wouldn't be following DeSantis down his unconstitutional crusade paved with sophist and nationalistic principles. Because of this, Florida educators, the nurturers of critical thinking, are now political targets, being unjustly scapegoated as "indoctrinators."

The state universities in Florida have been constrained by DeSantis' "Stop Woke Act," outlining tools "to stand up against discrimination and woke indoctrination." The literal definition of "Woke" means to be aware of social injustice, so his campaign slogan accurately translates to "Florida is where being aware of social injustices comes to die."

In the "Act," Florida educators are instructed to teach as if racism, classism, sexism, and social privilege don't exist in America. There are recommendations on approaching these issues, should they apply to in-class discussion. The state has provided a script in which it's suggested that teachers remind the students that no one present should feel guilt or responsibility due to our nation's past. Another decree states that teachers may "suggest" that some people benefit from social structures, but they must remind the student's that those lucky people are not racists. And finally, educators are to never insinuate that one race is "superior" to another—as if anyone ever would in the first place. We can only deduce that there is a good amount of energy being focused on making sure white students don't feel any shame about their nation's history.

But how can we learn from our past mistakes if we ignore them?

If I know anything about academia, it's that context matters. To teach Langston Hughes, one needs to discuss The Great Migration. Reviewing the 1960's counterculture should require us to discuss the diabolical FBI's domestic spying efforts known as COINTELPRO.

Highlighting rhetorical fallacies, such as circular reasoning, red herrings, ad hominems, and bandwagon fallacies, while using actual political debates, where those sorts of empty evidence thrive, are perfect examples for cultivating objective critiquing skills. After all, a well-informed citizen should be able to identify the rhetorical strategies our elected leaders use when communicating pertinent information. They should be able to discern the difference between valid evidence and patriotic propaganda. Is it morally correct to ignore the genocide of Native Americans when discussing the colonization of our nation? And the wicked reality behind the Gulf of Tonkin incident should be acknowledged when discussing the Vietnam War. Being in these situations is causing educators to walk on eggshells instead of doing what they've been hired to do because teaching historical facts is now being branded as indoctrination.

The new norm for Florida educators is having emails, personal social media pages, and cell phones searched for mentions of diversity and inclusion. That is happening. And if educators don't blindly adhere to these tyrannical demands, their jobs are at risk. If cultural diversity and inclusion are acknowledged, careers are at risk. This academic inquisition equates to McCarthyism. The first step of a hostile takeover of a state is to attack the intellectuals, the thinkers who see through the veil of patriotic marketing. It has happened before, and it is happening now. This is ruthlessly un-American, and those carrying the torches against alleged indoctrination do not see the totalitarian they're blindly following.

Politicians should not be forcing propaganda into the classrooms, and educators shouldn't be threatened into supporting it. Teachers work on behalf of the students and depriving them of an unprejudiced education would be the greatest injustice of all.

Mark Massaro is a writer and works in higher education in Florida.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.