(The Center Square) – The Florida Board of Education (BOE) Wednesday adopted K-12 civics curriculum that requires students be taught the “philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic” and “the root cause of American exceptionalism.”
The seven-member board with little comment unanimously adopted new standards in teaching civics, the Holocaust, character education, substance use and abuse that explicitly bans critical race theory.
The standards were introduced in May by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was on hand with First Lady Casey DeSantis at the board’s Wednesday meeting at St. Petersburg College.
“Whatever pathway you choose, you have to be able to discharge the duties of being a citizen. So this civics education is universally applicable, regardless of what field you go into, regardless of what you do in your life once you leave Florida’s education system,” DeSantis said.
Cheered on by “America First” supporters, the governor said bolstering civics beyond one middle school class and one high school class has been a priority since taking office in January 2019.
“We’ve got to do a much better job teaching people about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all these important things,” DeSantis said. “I’m excited about what we’re doing.”
The new standards specify how Florida students will be taught about the Holocaust. Since the adoption of 1994’s Senate Bill 660, Florida requires students learn about the Holocaust but curriculum is vague.
“We want to make sure our students understand the evils of the Holocaust,” DeSantis told the BOE Wednesday. “You see people throughout the world try to diminish or even reject that the Holocaust even happened.”
SB 660 also established a Task Force on Holocaust Education. It still exists and its members are not happy with the new standards.
In an April letter, task force members claim the new standards do not provide a “broader understanding of where all group-based hatreds can lead” and omits “core concepts such as diversity empathy, responsibility, and fairness.”
The standards fail to link the Holocaust to lessons that encourage understanding the “ramifications of prejudice, stereotyping and racism” and violates SB 660, task force member Yael Hershfield, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Florida, wrote in a June 11 letter.
“If we truly want to educate our next generation to understand the evils of hatred, as exposed during the Holocaust, so that history does not repeat itself, as it did in Rwanda and other genocides, we must address the universal lessons,” she wrote.
Members object that a Tennessee-based Evangelical Christian group – Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN), with a “well-documented track record of anti-Muslim bigotry,” according to the Anti-Defamation League – was “invited” to offer input despite having “neither the expertise nor the credentials” to do so.
PJTN also criticized the standards because they fall “dismally short” of what it wanted – all students to be extensively educated in Jewish traditions.
PJTN President Laurie Cardoza-Moore maintains the Holocaust should be taught without “universalizing” it.
“If you’re going to talk about the Holocaust you don’t bring in racism or xenophobia or all these other issues,” she told reporters. “In Germany, Hitler established the final solution to the Jewish question. That should be the focus of teaching the Holocaust.”
PJTN called the standards “revisionist,” prompting task force members to question why it’s even participating in the discussion.
“We, from the Commissioner’s Task Force on Holocaust Education, are not ‘revisionists’ and want the best Holocaust education standards for students and teachers,” said Barbara Goldstein, a former task force chair, in a statement.
After Wednesday’s adoption, Cardoza-Moore praised the standards as “groundbreaking and historic,” and will “ensure our children learn the Judeo-Christian foundations of our nation, while also curbing the growth of anti-Semitism.”