Opinion: How both California and Florida are using schools to fight the culture wars

ron desantis
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during his 2022 election night party in Tampa. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File photo

Governor Gavin Newsom is a self-professed crusader against the social and educational policies of red states, particularly Florida, describing their governors as repressive authoritarians.

Just a few days ago, for example, Newsom sent a letter to textbook publishers, demanding to know if they are obeying Florida’s order to remove passages on race and other historical topics from books. Implicitly, Newsom threatens publishers serving Florida risk being shut out of California.

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“California will not be complicit in Florida’s attempt to cover up the story through laws and backroom deals; Parents have a right to know what is happening in the dark to undermine our children’s education, and California deserves to know if any of these companies designing textbooks for our state’s classrooms are the same ones bowing to the extremist agenda. Florida,” Newsom wrote.

Last month, Newsom visited the New College of Florida and sharply criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to curb the university’s progressive culture.

DeSantis appointed a conservative majority to the university’s board of trustees, replaced its president with an ally and abolished his office dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion programs as part of a larger effort to reform public education as far as DeSantis called the “Free State of Florida”. .”

“I can’t believe what you’re dealing with. It’s just an unbelievable assault,” Newsom told New College students and faculty members. “It is common with everything you are doing, to harass and intimidate vulnerable communities. Weakness, Ron DeSantis, weakness disguised as strength across the board.”

DeSantis wants to protect Florida students from influences he sees as subversive and position himself as a right-wing culture warrior as he runs for president.

However, the other side of the coin is what is happening in Newsomland: making the cultural hallmarks that DeSantis wants to suppress more or less mandatory in California schools and universities.

While DeSantis abolishes New College’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion, the University of California requires faculty to write “diversity statements” that encompass those goals.

For years, UC faculty members have debated whether the requirement interferes with academic freedom, with critics comparing it to “loyalty oaths” once used to weed out those with center-left leanings. They were later invalidated by the state Supreme Court.

UC later adopted a policy that “No political evidence shall ever be considered in the appointment and promotion of any faculty or employee,” and critics say the UC diversity statement requirement violates that policy. .

This month, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of psychologist John Haltigan, alleging that the required disclosure violated his rights to free speech and barred him from a teaching position at UC Santa Cruz.

Meanwhile, California’s K-12 schools are now required to provide ethnic studies and their model curriculum is steeped in the social theory Florida wants to ban, essentially that non-white Americans are subject to continued racism and repression for part of the whites

The model sees students learning to “critique empire-building in history and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, and other forms of power and oppression.”

Early versions of the model were more assertively left-wing, but Jewish groups balked at its characterization of Zionism as repression, and the wording was toned down ahead of its 2021 adoption.

The changes angered some members of the team that wrote the initial draft and have offered to consult with school systems that want to comply with the ethnic studies mandate. However, that sparked a backlash from The Deborah Project, a public interest Jewish law firm dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.

The organization has sued several California school districts, alleging that their ethnic studies programs use anti-Zionist materials from the original curriculum.

Florida and California both use education to instill ideological creeds.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism company committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters.