A year ago, Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Stop WOKE Act,” a law prohibiting the teaching of certain progressive concepts in schools or universities. The university portion of the law has already been struck down in court as a blatant First Amendment violation. This week, the state announced the law is being used in primary schools to block the adoption of Advanced Placement African American History.
The news of Florida’s action was broken by a deliriously joyful Stanley Kurtz in National Review. Kurtz argues that the course “proselytizes for a socialist transformation of the United States.”
His claim is difficult to assess, for three reasons. First, Kurtz has obtained and criticized the text of the curriculum as “leftist radicalism,” but he has not published it, leaving readers wholly reliant on his judgment.
Second, Kurtz’s view of what constitutes proselytizing for socialist transformation of the United States is rather expansive. He has previously described both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as secret advocates of a conspiracy to enact a socialist transformation, detecting radical plots lurking in such anodyne measures as a tweak to HUD’s funding formula.
In short, I find Kurtz’s methods unsound.
Third, DeSantis has described the Stop WOKE Act as “taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” According to DeSantis, the law merely forbids courses that compel students to accept CRT; it does not ban the theory — or teachings related to the theory — altogether. The AP African American History course was co-developed by Harvard historian Henry Louis Gates, a famous skeptic of critical race theory.
When Gates was explaining the course to the New York Times last year, he said that it would incorporate radical views as alternative views, not as the primary framework of the course itself:
There could, for example, “be a course on Marxist approaches to race,” Dr. Gates said, adding, “and most certainly I would imagine something on critical race theory and maybe something on the 1619 Project.”
He said: “This hypothetical unit would discuss the controversies over different interpretive frameworks used to analyze the history of race in America. I am certainly not advocating employing those theories as interpretive frameworks for the course itself. That’s a big difference.” [emphasis added]
Without having seen the course, it’s impossible to tell whether Gates succeeded in this objective. But needless to say, there’s no reason to take Stanley Kurtz or DeSantis’s state government at face value.
The most intriguing clue into Florida’s thinking on this issue comes from a line in the letter the state sent, and which Kurtz quotes (but does not publish in full — as I said, his methods are unsound). The letter states, “As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
I was curious why the Florida State Department of Education deemed the course “inexplicably contrary” to its laws. My guess is that the letter’s author thought merely calling the course “contrary to Florida law” seemed too weak, too low-energy, to represent the full Ron DeSantis gestalt. Casting about for an intensifier, the author was perhaps trying to think of a word like “innately” or “irretrievably,” but instead settled on a word that means something close to the opposite. (For those readers who may be working for the DeSantis administration, “inexplicable” means “baffling” or otherwise defying sense.)
I emailed the Florida Department of Education to ask, “Why is this inexplicable? If it is inexplicable, how do you know that it is contrary to Florida law?” I have not immediately received a response and do not expect to. It may be unrealistic to expect grammatical coherence in an official letter from the state of Florida, but I would like to remind readers that this is an education agency.
In the meantime, DeSantis has banned his students from choosing to take Advanced Placement African American history, for reasons his own officials say defy any explanation.