Image via Shutterstock Gov. DeSantis continues his fight to impose his conservative agenda in public education.
Image via Shutterstock

The governor’s chief of staff said, “it is our hope that [it] will become more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South,” a school that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has called “a shining city on a hill.” 

Days after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared that Florida is “No. 1 in public higher education,” the Republican governor vowed to keep cracking down on what he calls the “woke ideology,” and demanded the state’s public higher education system to show him all programs related to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) and Critical Race Theory (CRT) in their curriculums. DeSantis is also asking if those programs are being funded with state money, and how much.

Laying Siege to Equality and Diversity

Acting on his conservative agenda, on Friday DeSantis appointed six new members to the board of the New College of Florida in Sarasota, which prides itself on educating “free thinkers [and] celebrates diversity, encourages individual expression, and values openness, kindness and mutual respect.” Ranked fifth in “top public schools by U.S. News & World Report, its website states that the institution was founded on “principles of equality and inclusion.”

But on Jan. 4, Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who is one of the six appointees, tweeted that “Gov. DeSantis is going to lay siege to university ‘diversity, equity and inclusion programs.’”

Democratic Florida Rep. Anna V. Eskamani has continued to strongly express her opposition to DeSantis’ education agenda.

Desantis’ push would turn the state’s progressive public liberal arts honors college into a stronghold of far-right conservatism like Hillsdale College in Michigan, a Christian school that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has called “a shining city on a hill.” 

In fact, James Uthmeier, DeSantis’s chief of staff, told the Daily Caller website that “it is our hope that New College of Florida will become Florida’s classical college, more along the lines of a Hillsdale of the South.”

To ensure that, among DeSantis’ six appointees is Matthew Spalding, a government professor and dean at Hillsdale College, which has created K-12 curriculums designed to help “students acquire a mature love for America.” 

Revising History

Critics of the governor’s move to copy Hillsdale’s agenda, point out that the Hillsdale K-12 civics and US history curriculum attacks progressive values and distorts the history of the civil rights movement with declarations that its ideals “ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders.”

But in fact, Critical Race Theory, an academic discipline that started in the 1970s and explores systemic racism in the United States, isn’t taught in K-12 schools or regular classrooms. What is taught, per Ron DeSantis’ Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative, includes the misleading claim that it was a “misconception” that the “Founders desired strict separation of church and state,” as one slide used during a teachers’ training claimed.

DeSantis’ website also gives school board candidates in Florida access to a non-endorsement certificate that reads, “I stand with Governor Ron DeSantis and pledge to…” followed by a list of education priorities, including “Reject the Use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the curriculum,” “keep WOKE gender ideology out of schools,” and “support a robust civics education.”

Those who view the governor’s request to identify CRT and DEI programs as an attempt to silence viewpoints he doesn’t agree with include Andrew Gothard, president of the United Faculty of Florida.

 “While students are required to learn lots of different ideas…that doesn’t mean they have to agree or make those ideas a part of their core identity,” said Gothard in response to those who believe that colleges and universities are indoctrinating students.