DeSantis’ peculiar concept of ‘indoctrination’ disses Black History Month


Have you noticed something weird in the vocabulary of Christian nationalist public officials? They’re all suddenly against indoctrination in our public schools. Sounds good, until you realize what they really mean.

“We want education, not indoctrination,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has famously said. But, oops — he’s not talking about being against religious indoctrination. No, this religious demagogue is trying to roil up the masses against what he claims is “indoctrination” to be gay or to be woke. DeSantis is now bragging that his state is so much against “indoctrination” that it has rejected a proposed nationwide advance placement course on African American studies. Mind you, this is an optional, high school-level advanced placement course.

DeSantis not only signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill last year, but something dubbed “Stop Woke Act.” Now he’s trying to cash in politically by barring this advanced placement course in his state. (The College Board that designs the course made changes to mollify DeSantis, but to no avail.) Florida House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell lambasted the move for sending “a clear message that Black Americans’ history does not count in Florida.”

What makes this censorship of ideas and discussion all the more insulting is that the Florida Board of Education announced this rejection during Black History Month.

Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. consulted with the College Board over development of the course, and points out a key component in this course is a “pro and con debate” unit at the end of the course. “Any good class in Black studies seeks to explore the widest range of thought voiced by Black and white thinkers on race and racism over the long course of our ancestors’ fight for their rights in this country,” he writes.

Gates cites an eloquent passage from Carter G. Woodson, who pioneered what became Black History Month, to illustrate the harm of Florida’s action:

“It was well understood that if by the teaching of history the white man could be further assured of his superiority and the Negro could be made to feel that he had always been a failure and that the subjection of his will to some other race is necessary the freedman, then, would still be a slave . . . If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action.”

Gates also aptly quotes Martin Luther King Jr: “No society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present.”

As New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow asserts, “DeSantis’s obsession has led him from attacking critical race theory to, now, restricting the teaching of Black history itself.”

Blow charges that DeSantis is “spearheading a new iteration of the states’ rights movement” — and when we hear “states’ rights,” watch out! States’ rights is what approved the continuation of slavery in the newly formed United States, brought the Civil War, and then the vicious lynchings, Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow pushback after Reconstruction, delaying civil rights, voting rights and full citizenship for Black Americans by at least 100 years.

“States’ rights” is what brought us the Dobbs ruling putting the precious right to self-determination and reproductive freedom back into the hands of male-dominated and largely religiously conservative state legislatures. “States’ rights” is bringing us the war against LGBTQ individuals.

In a column on the higher aim of Black studies, Brandeis University Professor Chad Williams cites W.E.B. Du Bois’ challenge that the field should “concentrate on the study of the present,” “not be afraid of radical literature,” and voice “eternal opposition against war between the white and colored peoples of the Earth.” Instead of heeding these words, DeSantis is continuing his attacks on the advanced placement course and is, in fact, now gunning for the organization that designs the course.

DeSantis and other white Christian nationalists are declaring war: against civil rights, free inquiry, free exploration of America’s past and future — and in doing so have shown unparalleled contempt for Black history during the one month a year devoted to it.

During Black History Month, the Freedom From Religion Foundation once again invites you to become acquainted with an important part of Black history: the many African American thinkers, activists, artists, writers and activists who have made known their dissent from religion. Imagine DeSantis’ consternation!

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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