I Teach in Florida by Ron DeSantis: Parents Don’t Read the Books They Ban

I’m a public school teacher in Florida for Ron DeSantis, a title that isn’t worth much in my state these days.

Like most in my profession, I am passionate about my work, and as an English teacher, I enjoy reading with students and helping them hone their writing skills, especially on the creative side.

It can be challenging to achieve this when constant use of technology, a strong disdain for reading, and apathy toward writing cause students to drift off in their own space, mostly unsupervised.

A Florida teacher writes in this essay about his experience working under the new educational content rules in his state. Pictured, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds his book as he speaks at the Midland County Republican Party’s Dave Camp Spring Breakfast on April 6, 2023 in Midland, Michigan.Chris DuMond/Getty Images

That’s a recurring battle that teachers like me deal with. Day after day, we do wonders to engage students in what needs to be taught.

But as a teacher in DeSantis’ Florida, the cards—and the law—are against me. The Governor of Florida has decided to make the teaching profession a political issue, and books are the eternal victim of his anti-awakening agenda.

During another time of political turmoil, author Ray Bradbury envisioned a future society in which books were illegal, thinking differently was considered “anti-social,” and meaningful debate was suppressed by a government that wanted its citizens to be happy and free from any which created no hassle.

In his novel, Fahrenheit 451, there are no more teachers like me; they eroded their acceptance for what they taught and for the voice they wanted their students to have. In Florida, we are supposedly teaching, or, in the words of DeSantis, “indoctrinating,” our youth to wake up rather than display what he would call “true American values.”

Bradbury’s novel, a story about the banning of books, was challenged, censored, and, yes, banned from schools and libraries across the United States. Today, it serves as a stark reminder that as much as one side of the political aisle likes to complain about too much government interference, they, like DeSantis, are doing much worse.

At the beginning of the school year, a parent approached me during our Open House event and asked if what I planned to teach was available for parents to view. The father favored the governor’s parental involvement agenda regarding what his children were receiving while in school.

I have no problem with this; I encourage parents to find out what their kids are up to while they’re away from home, just as I hope those same parents are just as interested in finding out what their kids are up to on their phones, social media, or even with their friends.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. A teacher can tell when a student is doing what he wants while he’s using her phone, but he won’t see someone like me censoring him or censoring the sites and places he visits.

The parent’s question about what you would be teaching students was fair, but banning books from being offered or read at school is not the way to solve the problem some may have about the perception of “awakening.”

In many cases, challenges and book bans occur because parents don’t even bother to read or learn on their own; they go with the political current but don’t see how the times are changing.

Meanwhile, politicians like DeSantis are only too willing to oblige and galvanize their base, as long as you remember to vote for them in the next election.

Ultimately, the future of this nation will be affected by DeSantis’s agenda in Florida. This agenda is spreading to other states and has become difficult for educators to teach.

From libraries purging books, turning books upside down, or covering entire shelves so students can’t access certain titles to teachers being harassed and investigated for what they show or say in class—this is where we’re at.

In Fahrenheit 451, Captain Beatty’s character, the fire chief, and Ron DeSantis from the story, explains to the main character that society requires books to be illegal.

One of the reasons was that the books offended people, made them feel uncomfortable, and that the state, which wanted to keep everyone happy, eventually did the same. There was no real agenda other than the desire to eliminate the “anti-socials” or “crowd awakens” in today’s jargon.

But Shakespeare is still in the curriculum. Plays like Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Hamlet are read, discussed and discussed in classrooms across the state.

Is the governor not clear about the themes that flow throughout each of these works? Don’t you remember that Romeo and Juliet is a story of teenage love, heartbreak and sex and that the two main characters commit suicide because their parents refuse to wake up?

Or what about Macbeth, a play that revolves around the theme of blinding ambition and the lengths to which one will go to get what they want most? Does DeSantis not remember how much blood is spilled throughout history?

And Hamlet, a story that I have taught every year? The themes of this work are prevalent today: revenge, mental health problems, suicide.

And yet, none of Shakespeare’s works have been challenged, censored, or banned due to DeSantis’ new law that aims to remove certain types of literature from school and public libraries.

Aside from burning books, as is done in Bradbury’s novel, removing these books—because the Governor doesn’t dare call it a “ban”—is a surefire way to ensure that the “wake-up” agenda doesn’t spread throughout Florida. .

In Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel “Fahrenheit 451,” firefighters are tasked with burning books in acts of censorship. Stock Image iStock/Kristina Kojanova

This school year, I decided to try something different to encourage my students to get more involved in improving their writing skills. I commissioned them to create a new version of Hamlet, giving them the opportunity to use their imagination and incorporate the themes discussed.

The result was overwhelmingly positive, with almost 125 original stories received and read. I further appealed to my students by telling them that I would select 21 stories and put them together in a book. My job would be to sit down with each student-author and help edit and improve their piece. They were excited to be involved in this project and excited to see how it progressed.

But then, I gave the final version of the book to the school principal and explained its context. I had a bad feeling that this student-written book would fall victim to DeSantis’ “anti-wake” law, that my students would be silenced because someone might be angry, offended, or even concerned about what their child is writing at school. as if these same students were not experiencing the same themes that prevail in a Shakespearean play.

I feared that the book would not be allowed to see the light of day, that my students would be disappointed, and that the DeSantis law had affected and censored those it sought to protect.

Fortunately, things turned out well and the project was not questioned or silenced.

I imagine what it will be like when someone walks into my classroom and seeks to take an inventory of my small but interesting library. I’ve gotten students off their devices and encouraged to read by incorporating more engaging versions of classic literature.

Today’s generation loves manga, graphic novels, and modern storytelling, and I’ve seen their interest rise, even by those who loathe reading. The student-written book we publish is also there. Will it drop too?

Another character from Fahrenheit 451, Professor Faber explains that books give us three things. Texture: The feeling we get when we hold a book, even when we smell it; they take us to places of leisure, a kind of escape from the world in which we live; and they also make us think, allowing readers to decide for themselves whether or not they agree with what they have just read.

This is being lost because one side considers it “indoctrination” to give way to open debate or “inappropriate” for our youth to learn about specific topics that can be easily found online.

So burn the books, not literally, but if they could, not the technology. DeSantis is not interested in technology.

In Bradbury’s novel, teachers no longer helped, schools became a shell of what they were, and students no longer learned the “why” but only the “how.” No more reading, no more writers, no more books.

Society has become dystopian, subservient to its technology, and dumbed down to “pasta pudding,” while in politics: “If you don’t want a man to be unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides of a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet…don’t give him any.”

Is this where we’re headed in Ron DeSantis’ Florida? A state where the teaching profession and books are constantly threatened. Will the courage to be free be the only book allowed to read in schools? Because at the rate we’re going…

Guillermo Stephens, pseudonym, is a high school English teacher in the state of Florida. He is passionate about promoting a love of reading, writing, and critical thinking.

All opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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