DeSantis escalates Florida’s war on public education

The College Board caves to racist attacks on African American studies

Titles removed from the program include classics and acclaimed award-winners. L-R: Ain’t I A Woman, by bell hooks; Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, by Kimberlé Crenshaw et al.; The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander.
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The governor of Florida is at it again. He kicked off Black History Month by declaring that the Advanced Placement African American Studies program would not be allowed in the state because “it lacks educational value.”

Ron DeSantis is adding to his anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-immigrant and book-banning crusades with this latest vicious racist attack. His assault on Black history education robs African American students of their history and culture and denies all students an accurate picture of U.S. history and the world we live in.

Advanced Placement (AP) allows high school students across the U.S. to take college courses, making it easier to get into college and helping defray the expense of a full four years. These national courses are developed by the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), a college entrance exam. The Board is a non-profit which has been criticized for bias against poor and non-white students in SAT test questions.

DeSantis, who once taught history at a private high school, insisted on removing topics on the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations, intersectionality and queer theory from the AP classes. Though the College Board at first denied it, memos later revealed that they bowed to months of pressure from the Florida Education Department and revamped African American Studies curriculum to meet Florida’s censorship. Currently DeSantis is threatening to cancel all Advanced Placement courses in Florida if they violate his “Stop WOKE Act” laws signed in 2021. Among other things, the law prohibits teaching critical race theory, which discusses systemic racism.

Bigotry goes national. This is not just a Florida issue, but a countrywide attack on public education because the AP class curriculum is used in high schools across the nation. DeSantis’ culture war agenda is a well-planned ploy to solidify support from the extreme right for his presidential campaign in 2024. He targets every progressive demand that he disparages as being part of a “woke” conspiracy. Thus, he attacks African American Studies, LGBTQ+ people’s rights, humane immigration policies, reproductive justice, and concepts of equality and diversity. He trumpets his antipathy to drag shows and transgender rights.

Florida is not the only state “where woke goes to die” as DeSantis puts it. There are 23 states with current anti-trans bills. Controversy over teaching about systemic racism has led to book bans and teacher firings around the country. Florida, Georgia and Mississippi all have restrictive laws about what teachers can say about racism, sexism and inequality to their students. Virginia is now attempting to limit African American Studies. Even more concerning is the number of school boards where white supremacists and right-wing Moms for Liberty candidates have won seats.

We say fight back. On Feb. 15, protesters gathered in Tallahassee, the Florida capital, to demonstrate against DeSantis’ policies, including the attack on African American Studies. The protesters were members of the Black and Latinx communities, students, teachers, LGBTQ+ people and immigrants in a show of solidarity.

Speakers gave powerful notice that they will not tolerate DeSantis’ fascistic policies. This rally was a graphic demonstration of intersectionality and highlights that the struggles against all forms of oppression are linked. One of the Black ministers in attendance remarked that DeSantis wants to stamp out intersectionality but movements really have it now!

A week later Florida House Rep. Anna Eskamani, an immigration advocate, joined a student walkout and stated “every culture war is a class war.” The capitalist system is in crisis. As competition for shrinking resources increases and poverty and discontent among citizens becomes greater than ever, some turn toward authoritarianism as the solution. The current wave of states’ reactionary legislation, anti-LGBTQ+ attacks, anti-Jewish rhetoric and backlash to Black civil rights gains did not start with Donald Trump, and it will not end with him either.

To combat this wave of reaction it will take all of us who are assailed by right-wing extremism, banding together to fight back. This means organizing in our unions, social groups, schools and work places to support a multi-issue (intersectional) program of mutual solidarity with all those under attack. We must hit the streets in massive numbers to resist the capitalist system and all its many ills. A socialist revolution has never been more on the agenda.

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