Editorial: Bad news, Tallahassee: Florida students are already awake

History. Sociology. Geography. Civics. Political Science. Economics. Anthropology. These disciplines — often grouped together under the heading of “social studies” — were developed to foster a deeper understanding of the world we all inhabit. The best educators work hard to take their students outside of boundaries on a map, lists of dates or dull expositions on theory. They draw lines between every lesson and the lives of the students they are teaching.

Students are challenged to envision their life in a different culture or a different time. To see the progression of political priorities. To understand how the demands of a unified society and economy can shape the lives of the individuals living within it and to evaluate events from multiple perspectives.

And because human beings are moral people, students will invariably place their knowledge into frames of justice versus injustice, generosity versus greed, transparency versus deception, acceptance versus exclusion, freedom versus tyranny. Many students will also regard their studies through the lens of the faith and moral guidance they were taught by their parents: There is a reason, after all, that most of the world’s religions have a solid base in scholarship.

There’s a reason students often cite social-studies classes among their favorites. They gulp down this knowledge like Mountain Dew. Some are even moved to put their new learning in action.

A demand for blinders

In new standards for social-studies textbooks issued last week, Florida educational officials acknowledge the critical need to satisfy students’ thirst for relevance. But then the standards take a bizarre turn, declaring some associations, grouped under the umbrella of “woke,” to be off-limits.

Which ones? The standards rely on misappropriated buzzwords and threatening emotions to define their targets. Among the banned “topics”: Critical Race Theory, Social Justice, Culturally Responsive Teaching, Social and Emotional Learning, and “any other unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”

In context, it’s quite clear that the state is only targeting some forms of indoctrination. Other parts of the standards dictate dogmatic treatments of Communism, for example, and the Holocaust.

It’s a little more difficult to determine which theories aren’t welcome. There should be no portrayal of racial or gender groups as inherently racist, sexist or otherwise prejudiced, the guidelines say.. There should be no implication that one group has an inherent privilege over others due to race or gender. There should be no implication that a member of particular race, gender or other group should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” over their perceived advantage.

And certainly, students should not be asked to consider acting to correct any bias they perceive through this deceptive ideological fog. Concepts banned under the heading of “social justice” include the obviously true precept that some groups enjoy undeserved privileges from mere chance of birth, along with the notion that society should do anything to correct those inherent biases.

So if the average annual income of Florida women is $7,700 less than that of men, that’s their problem. If Black youths are more than four times more likely to be detained for juvenile offenses than Caucasian children caught committing the same offenses, that’s not something students should discuss.

One more objectionable point, among many: Teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

Any high-school sophomore could blow a hole in that: The Declaration’s “universal principles” may be lofty, but they aren’t universal. For starters, there’s not a single mention of women. The commonly accepted definition of “men” did not include African American slaves or North America’s indigenous population. And the large number of Florida students of Puerto Rican descent probably don’t read the Declaration’s indignant defenses of colonists’ rights the same way as the Tallahassee bureaucrats behind this bobbleheaded decree.

There’s one more big problem with the department’s facile new guidelines, one that lies in its deceptive pretense that only certain concepts are banned (as if that weren’t bad enough).

Textbook publishers aren’t stupid. They understand that, given the bare facts of a situation — the wage gaps, the disparate opportunities, the decades of oppression, the lopsided criminal-justice statistics — students will draw their own conclusions. If suggestions of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or national origin are banned, their books are likely to be targeted just for including data that suggests evidence of that institutional bias.

So that information will be excluded ― a little lesson in economics all by itself.

#WokeTok

The state’s recent witch hunt for “critical race theory” material in math books now makes a lot more sense. It was a warning shot: Any data, narratives or even photographs that suggest the existence of a deep-seated societal injustice could be enough to get a textbook banned.

These guidelines are not about protecting students from indoctrination. They are about “protecting” them from information that might awaken something in them: A desire for justice, perhaps, or a dissatisfaction with the status quo.

What does it say about Florida’s Republican leadership, that these impulses are something they wish to suppress? And what does it say about them, that they see the word “woke” as obviously, inherently pejorative?

Here’s the thing about Florida students: Many of them won’t be content to snooze through 12 years of forced ignorance. Denied the facts about injustice in their textbooks, they’ll take to the Internet. Tell them they can’t talk about racism or sexism in school, and they’ll move to TikTok or the next great social-media platform. That’s what’s happening right now — Florida has seen more student-led protests, demonstrations and outreach than at any time in recent memory.

Education officials can try to fill textbooks with lullabies and bedtime stories. But these kids are not going back to sleep, and hiding relevant information will only increase their state of high alert. And telling them certain information is off-limits? Congratulations, you just made it cool.

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The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Opinion Editor Krys Fluker, Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick and El Sentinel Editor Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio. Contact us at insight@orlandosentinel.com

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