Schools and Learning

In Florida, White Christian Nationalism Is Invading The Social Studies Curriculum

  Kristin Tolentino

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) established a Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative (CLEI), where educators attended three-day training sessions on how to approach material regarding politics and race.

Unfortunately, the material offered was slanted to reflect Christian nationalist views. A social studies teacher, Richard Judd, told the Miami Herald, “There was this Christian nationalism philosophy that was just baked into everything that was there.”

For example, attendees were told that America’s founders didn’t support strict separation of church and state and that the Bible influenced the country’s founding.

In implementing religiously aligned material into the curriculum, Christian nationalists blur the line between the separation of church and state so much further. Now, Americans United is investigating the degree to which conservative groups – namely Hillsdale College, a private Christian college, and the Koch-founded Bill of Rights Institute – were involved in the development of the material used in the training sessions.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. In April, DeSantis signed into law a bill that would prohibit educators from teaching certain issues regarding race. According to him, this was to prevent white students from feeling guilt or shame about their race based on historical events. (Of course, he also backed the infamous “don’t say gay” bill.)

These and similar developments around the country have set a disturbing precedent going forward – one that signifies a willful disregard for retelling history not in its most objective form, but in a way that absolves white Christian nationalists from blame, guilt or discomfort in acknowledging their privilege.

During the CLEI sessions, the facilitators showed slides that painted the founders as vehemently anti-slavery, despite the fact that many of them were slaveholders. According to the material provided, it was Christian beliefs that informed the founders’ alleged respect and compassion toward enslaved Black people, even if that might not have transcended into political or legal protections and policies.

The content is undeniably racist and untrue, and it’s troubling that this rhetoric will make its way through K-12 schools, disseminating only fragments of historical truths.

A better approach would be for students to understand the intersections between race and society through the implementation of an honest look at the impacts of historically racist policies and procedures that manifest in our modern institutions. In doing so, we begin to understand the degree to which our institutions are interlaced with racial unfairness. Whether it be the legal system, job market, education or health care system, implicit within them are laws, regulations and procedures that lead to differential outcomes based on race. An objective look at this history provides the framework to understand the legacy and persistence of racism, despite perceived social strides toward equality and inclusivity.

Florida, however, is one of seven states that have banned “critical race theory” from its curriculum, even though this approach is usually limited to higher education and graduate-level studies. Fending off the imaginary threat of CRT has become a justification for telling an incomplete, willfully ill-informed version of the country’s history.

The privileges some may unknowingly take advantage of have historically come at the expense of people of color, low-income individuals, women and religious minorities, to name a few.

Through these measures imposed by religious extremists and their lawmaker allies, we learn that ignorance is not blameless. Rather, it is a focused manipulation of knowledge aimed to make us believe we live in a post-racial society.

Photo: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to a gathering of conservatives. Getty Images.

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