There are countless reasons why I hate Ron DeSantis. He is, unfortunately, a really excellent politician who has essentially transformed Florida into DeSantis-Land. It seems inevitable, or at least very likely, that he might be the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s fairly identical to former president Donald Trump on policies, supporting lots of populist conservative bills within the state. His entire demeanor and public image are quite similar to Trump’s, but he removes just a little bit of the insanity and racism off the edges so that enough moderates and independents fall for his charm. But, one thing that makes me angry above everything else is what his administration has been doing in Florida’s schools. I’ve written a few columns about education and the importance of protecting schools from conservative influence. DeSantis is a man you’re probably going to see more and more of in the coming years, so here’s a story about how he’s changing education for the worse all over his state.
According to the New York Times, DeSantis won the recent Florida gubernatorial election by a margin of 59.4 percent to 40 percent against his Democratic opponent, Charlie Cristy. This 19.4 percent victory is a swing of nearly 19 points greater than his 2018 victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum. DeSantis, understanding his power and influence over the electorate, took another big step during this election. He endorsed a slate of school board candidates in races that were supposed to be nonpartisan. Under the banner of so-called “parental rights,” these boards are now actively suppressing the rights of transgender students and firing superintendents who disagree with their political cause. I don’t think I have to tell you why this is so dangerous. But in order to understand the nature of this uprising, let’s take a second to talk about Moms for Liberty.
Moms for Liberty is a growing organization of right-wing parents who want to reverse the track of American education. They have led multiple successful campaigns to ban books by civil rights leaders and others who expose the racist structure of the American political system, and are attempting to whitewash contemporary and pre-20th century American history in order to prevent students from learning about oppression within the state. They have also denounced many of the decisions to increase education of LGBTQ history and rights and have strongly denounced the rightful normalcy of transgender students both in sports and the classroom. These types of organizations, inspired by white parents who are seeking to erase the teaching of oppressive tendencies in the classroom and who are willing to take over school boards in elections in order to fire superintendents and essentially overthrow democratically chosen school curriculum, remind me of another organization that was prominent in the 20th century — The United Daughters of the Confederacy. In light of the role that the United Daughters of the Confederacy played in solidifying the racist textbooks of the South that were produced into the 21st century, the fact that this comparison can be drawn is terrifying.
As was the case in the past, students today are being exposed to intentional disinformation by organizations like Moms for Liberty, which are sponsored by powerful and increasingly influential politicians like DeSantis. DeSantis acts to uplift the message of these organizations from the bottom tiers of conservative activism to a movement that has taken hold in many school districts. By endorsing these right-wing activists in school board elections, he is endorsing the election of problematic people who will do damage to schools. The United Daughters of the Confederacy used textbooks to perpetuate a false version of the institution of slavery and the Confederacy, and now we see organizations like Moms for Liberty do the exact same thing with a more friendly and, therefore, more dangerous demeanor. DeSantis and these organizations are seeking to remove gender nonconforming and non-heteronormative education from the classroom. Whether it be through the banning of textbooks or the firing of teachers who seek to protect any students who are different, we are reaching a point of no return when it comes to the politicization of classrooms. For parents who so often complain about the liberal education students receive in colleges, they are being extremely hypocritical. Professors who give unheard voices a chance to speak by selecting students to answer questions in their classroom because they are from a traditionally oppressed background are just another step in making our community more egalitarian — Binghamton University should definitely know that lesson. Or rather, they should’ve embraced that lesson. Nevertheless, these conservative parents are turning a sacred space into a sphere of Republican influence for generations to come.
What will be the effects of this hostile takeover in the long-term? Well, many students who are already facing oppressive circumstances in American schools will be even more at risk of harm and isolation. Additionally, if many students are not exposed to America’s past and present as a colonizer and oppressor, future generations will likely be at risk of making the same mistakes again and again. It is quite cliche to say that history repeats itself, but if we don’t teach younger people the mistakes of the past they are likely to recreate more oppressive systems. Whenever politicians seek to change curriculum in the classrooms, either themselves or via sponsors, it’s likely because they want to reshape the next generation of students to adhere to their political mindset. This is unacceptable. By banning books and censoring a bleak past, we are setting in stone a bleak future.
Authoritarian states have traditionally used their control over education to stamp their ideology on the next generation. Vladimir Lenin said, “Without teaching there is no knowledge and without knowledge there is no communism.” The classroom can be a place for the state to implement its will upon students who are naive and unable to fight back, especially in increasingly non-democratic states. As a democracy, our primary goal should be to protect the teaching of all ideologies that don’t espouse hate, which includes learning about oppressive American institutions. The idealization of racist institutions and heteronormative teaching bends students toward the politics of conservative Republicans. We must be wary of these social movements and protect the truth.
Sean Reichbach is a sophomore double-majoring in economics and philosophy, politics and law.