TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida educators received their first trainings on the new state curriculum, focused on civics, American history, and facts instead of ideologies, according to descriptions by officials, such as the governor, and various state lawmakers. The trainings started on June 29. The next day, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Sanford, launching a new workforce training program for public service at Florida colleges.
In the speech, DeSantis criticized curriculum-related legislation in U.S. Congress as “devolving into squishy theory,” and said students should instead learn real history and civic responsibility. The presentations include slides for teaching “Qualities of an Upright and Desirable Citizen” as part of new curriculum for teachers.
In a release about the event, the governor’s office described federal efforts as “misleading” and an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to “buy off states with $6 billion if they sacrifice American History for Critical Race Theory.”
Florida has already passed legislative bans on teaching CRT in K-12 and higher education curriculum with House Bill 7, the so-called “Stop WOKE Act.”
“While the Biden administration is seeking to award grants to indoctrinate students with ideologies like Critical Race Theory, in Florida we have focused on Civics Excellence, teaching accurate American History without an ideological agenda,” DeSantis said at the Sanford event. “Our students and teachers have worked hard to elevate their Civics Excellence and are proving to the nation that Florida is the national model for cultivating great citizens.”
When it comes to history, the new state curriculum provides a road map to how Florida teachers are directed to instruct students about government, history, and understanding how the American political system developed.
Materials provided by the Florida Department of Education from the June 29 training for state educators included new methods for how to teach about the Constitution, religious liberty, and what the materials call the “Colonial seeds of American Independence.” The trainings are to prepare teachers for the 2023-2024 school year, according to documents from FDOE.
Instruction for teachers on the new curriculum includes an entire presentation about how to “Articulate the Founders’ view of Separation of Church and State and their view of Religious Liberty.”
The presentation includes a section titled “Misconception: The Founders desired strict separation of church and state and the Founders only wanted to protect Freedom of worship.” It goes into detail about how, according to the curriculum training, the modern understanding of the separation of Church and State contained the misconception that the Supreme Court of the United States was the final authority on the U.S. Constitution.
The only type of SCOTUS interpretation explicitly described in the presentation on the nation’s highest court and its role was originalism, a form of judicial review focused on tying modern law to “the plain meaning of the Constitution.” It is a method made more relevant in recent years by Justice Antonin Scalia, whose image is included on the slide.
In another slide, titled “Understanding When the Founders’ Original Intent Began To Change,” Florida’s teacher training materials listed three court cases from 1947 to 2019: Everson v. Board of Education (1947), Engel v. Vitale (1962), and American Legion v. American Humanist Association (2019).
Each of the three cases cited by FDOE in the training materials had different effects for federal and state law.
Everson v. Board of Education was a decision that expanded limits on government to make rules regarding certain religions. The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights includes in its First Amendment the phrase “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” known as the Establishment Clause.
After the Everson decision, that understanding was expanded to state laws as well.
In Engel v. Vitale, SCOTUS ruled that public schools, as well as state officials, were blocked when it came to writing or encouraging an official prayer for public schools as it would equal a violation of the First Amendment.
In 2019, the American Legion decision ruled that longstanding monuments, even those with a religious theme, may still be maintained on public, government lands, saying that over time, additional meanings for the items come from the community, adding to the purpose or significance of what were originally religious items. As a result, crosses — key to the 2019 case — could remain on government land and be maintained without modification or removal.
Citing these cases, FDOE has a later slide stating it was a misconception to believe or teach that “American colonies were characterized by religious intolerance between 1607-1776 and there was no religious liberty in America until the First Amendment.”
The presentation on religious liberty ends with the following notes:
- Historical facts and truths must be presented in the classroom
- Facts must be grounded in primary source documentation
- Founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it was essential to civic
Separately, a Citizenship, Civics Education, Pride and Engagement training focuses on the questions:
- What is liberty?
- How do you know when you have it?
- How do you know when you’ve lost it?
While providing instruction on how to teach about virtuous citizenship, which is not specifically defined in the presentation, the Florida educational materials show a flow chart set related to preserving liberty and the principles of citizens in the U.S.
According to the slide from FDOE about dangers due to a lack of virtue, citizens may lose their liberty and become subject to tyranny when they do not root their behavior in virtuous principles, and become licentious.
The presentation also separates “action civics” from “knowledge-based civics” in terms of educational approach. It says action civics use “blind ambition without principles,” providing a flowchart showing how action civics are guided, at least according to FDOE.
In another slide, FDOE shows what it calls the “qualities of an upright and desirable citizen.” The slide lists the following qualities.
- Has a thorough knowledge of Americas founding principles and documents, and is equipped to apply this knowledge
- Demonstrates civic virtue and self-government that promotes the success of the United States constitutional republic
- Respects the military, elected officials, civic leaders, public servants, and all those who have defended the blessings of liberty
- Understands and defends the United States Constitution, Bill of Rights, and other amendments in their historical context
- Recognizes how political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy
- Appreciates the price paid by previous generations to secure the blessings of liberty and why it is the responsibility of current and future generations to preserve it
One of the final slides is focused on pedagogy, or how to teach a concept.
It reads “Now that you’ve seen the revised Civics and Government standards for the 2023-2024 school year it is imperative that as educators, we understand our role is to develop students who will become upright and desirable citizens.”
Additional training materials focus on the Supreme Court more generally, as well as its history and role in U.S. government, including a section on stare decisis, a legal doctrine that means to abide by previous rulings or “To stand by things decided.” The slide says this was what led to the development of common law in England, and “later,” the U.S.
The training materials told teachers “Now that you’ve seen the revised Civics and Government standards for the 2023-2024 school year it is imperative that as educators, we understand our role is to develop students who will become upright and desirable citizens,” according to presentation documents provided to WFLA.com.
WFLA has reached out to the Florida Department of Education for comment on the new curriculum’s design philosophy.