TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — At an event in New Port Richey on Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke about his concerns over teacher recruitment efforts and classroom indoctrination, promising new initiatives to combat ideology that he says is “infesting” the education industry today.
He said he believes teacher colleges are ineffective and shouldn’t be developing educators who become “a cog in some indoctrination machine.” He says Florida’s new curriculum efforts will take the ideology and indoctrination out of state education.
“Our mantra has been, in our schools, to educate kids, not indoctrinate kids,” DeSantis said. “Hopefully what we’re doing is saying that teaching is not about learning ‘education in college or university,’ it’s really about having proficiency in subjects, then learning on the ground about how to do it.”
However, while DeSantis’ position on the curriculum is that students should focus on facts, and core topics, while avoiding ideology or politicization of lessons, a Tampa Bay teacher spoke with WFLA.com and said recent curriculum trainings for state teachers were not avoiding indoctrination, just changing what types of beliefs will be embraced and promoted.
“There’s been a big push for civic literacy for the last couple of years. But mostly it’s been a lot of talk and maybe looking at some standards,” Michelle Stover said. “And some teachers have been concerned about some standards and given their opinions, but to my knowledge this is the first real training they’ve rolled out.”
Civic education and participation has been a repeated goal for the new educational curriculum, according to state officials. Stover has become an outspoken critic of the new training sessions conducted by the Florida Department of Education, labeling them as skewed toward “strict ultra-conservative views,” rather than devoid of any ideology.
The trainings, according to Stover, were narrowly focused on things like nationalism, religion’s role in government, and turning students into “desirable citizens.” Stover said what made a student a desirable citizen, at least based on how the curriculum training was conducted, was more focused on what she viewed as “White Christian Nationalist,” rather than teaching students about how government works, and encouraging them to engage with it.
“The materials didn’t talk about voting, interacting with your government at all. It was strictly about religious influence and how religion could be a part of our government and that the First Amendment was strictly about keeping government from interfering in religion, and not vice versa,” Stover said. “To me, it didn’t seem to be much for instructing the students, it was sort of giving a very biased viewpoint of history and not talking about how to be a good citizen.”
Stover contends curriculum training had FDOE staff telling teachers how to believe, rather than focusing on the material they would be teaching. “To me it seemed that what they were inferring was that to be a good citizen, you believe this. And you are virtuous in the sense of, a White Christian Nationalist kind of view,” Stover said. “The fact that they were using the word nationalism and trying to paint it as a good thing kind of makes me come to that conclusion.”
However, like Florida residents and lawmakers, teachers are not a uniform group when it comes to politics and opinions. A recent survey of Sarasota teachers included freeform responses from those surveyed. One teacher, all of whom were anonymous, said the changes were positive, and it was good to remove personal beliefs from education to focus on the academics instead.
“The supposed ‘culture wars’ are only occurring because some percentage of teachers have chosen to push their personal ideologies in their classrooms (most of these ideologies are left/’progressive’ leaning. To the degree that teachers continue to insist on this, the current administration will push back,” the teacher said in their response. “This may be seen as an attack by some, but it is seen as a defense of parental rights and the basics of education by others.”
According to Stover, the trainings not only related to nationalist style, but even included discussion about how patriotism and nationalism were similar. She said the teachers in the training she attended in Tampa had pushed back on that notion in some respects.
“I feel that this movement towards kind of like a nationalism, they even used the word nationalism and tried to say it was like a positive thing. And many of the teachers spoke up during the training here in Tampa to say that nationalism was not the same thing as patriotism. That it is extremely discriminatory and biased and we equate that sort of thing with a, you know, Nazis, to be honest,” Stover said, referring to the Nationalist Socialist Party of Germany during World War II. “They even brought up the Blood and Soil argument, it said that it’s not like we’re the nationalists like the Nazis were, blood and soil, you know, when in reality we just had January 6, which was in some ways very much an extremist, fundamentalist, reactionary, riotous thing. So, I think these, what’s being presented is very, very biased and it’s concerning to me that we’re not asking kids to draw conclusions, we’re asking them to be virtuous, that the Founders were all, had Christian virtue, and it sounds like we’re talking a lot about religion.”
Stover says she is speaking out because she wants state leaders to “listen more to professionals” when designing curriculum and to focus more on policies that were based on research.
While in New Port Richey, the governor said the goal of the state was to take ideology out of the classroom, and that state leaders wanted to keep the state from ending up in bad shape.
“Obviously in the classroom we’ve battled a lot of ideologies. What I’ve said is the state of Florida is the place where woke goes to die,” DeSantis said. “We are not going to let this state descend into some type of woke dumpster fire. We’re going to be following common sense, we’re going to be following facts.”
WFLA.com has covered different parts of the new curriculum materials already, and repeated requests for comment and clarification to FDOE have not yet been answered.