While Florida has long been monikered the “Sunshine State,” it seems determined to retreat to the Dark Ages. Under Ron DeSantis’ gubernatorial authority, the state recently passed the Parental Rights in Education Act — better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — and has now rejected AP African American Studies as a high school course.
These legislative decisions not only remove educators’ freedom to discuss LGBTQ+ and non-white issues and history in class, but also tries to erase their issues and history in the state entirely.
Regardless of the Florida Department of Education’s insistence that AP African American Studies is not a “historically accurate, unbiased” course, Black Americans did — and do — exist.
LGBTQ+ Americans also exist, meaning the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which does not allow discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school, isolates and ostracizes countless children who are either queer themselves or grew up in queer households.
Florida’s censorship and interference in education is unfortunately part of a trend that is currently sweeping the nation — championed by the “limited government” party, no less.
From July 2021 to June 2022, 32 states banned books, pilfering the libraries of 5,049 schools and affecting nearly 4 million students.
The banned books include such titles as “The Hate U Give,” “The Kite Runner” and “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” and the plurality of banned books featured LGBTQ+ or POC characters and storylines.
However, this politically motivated anti-intellectualism is not confined to literature. When, at long last, COVID-19 vaccines became available to the public, rural and religious communities — both of which historically skew Republican — were unprecedentedly hesitant.
This pushback was largely because of the Republican party’s deliberate undermining and misinformation regarding COVID-19 — similar to their misinformation regarding climate change, and regular vaccination, and the electoral process, and college education and “book-smarts” in general.
Anti-intellectualism is not only frustrating, but also deeply tragic. The countless children who will grow up in school systems that deny them diverse books, families that decry universities as “woke” and communities that do not believe in science will be shocked and stunted when they eventually enter the real world.
Their ignorance will also lead to genuine harm perpetrated against people of color and LGBTQ+ people — people who are now forced to see their humanity and importance denied again and again by school boards and politicians.
As anti-intellectualism becomes more and more partisan, it also becomes harder to ignore. Conspiracy theorists used to be recognized — and laughed off — in their tin-foil hats, but during Trump’s presidency, avowed Q-Anon believer Michael Flynn was the United States National Security Advisor.
Book bans were satirized and mocked in literature way back in the 1950s — think “Fahrenheit 451” — but are now more commonplace than ever, espoused by such groups as Moms for Liberty.
And 69 years after Brown v. Board of Education abolished segregation in schools, states are again devaluing and discriminating against students of color, with Florida officials claiming African American studies is no more than “identity politics and indoctrination.”
Unfortunately, it seems that American anti-intellectualism is little more than a continuation of the racial and homophobic bigotry that has long plagued the United States.
“Woke,” an adjective that used to innocuously mean “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice,” has become akin to a profanity within mainstream politics.
Critical Race Theory and LGBTQ+ theory courses are on the chopping block in schools across the nation.
The victims of this situation are the least culpable: children — particularly Black, Brown or queer kids, who are no longer allowed to learn about their ancestors, their struggles or their achievements. Children will grow up in a sheltered, darkened world, unable to celebrate their own culture, understand their friends’ histories or experience diversity of thought and opinion.
It’s a common adage that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. We’ve seen what happens when leaders throughout history dismantle education, censure knowledge or demonize marginalized groups. Let’s hope Americans instead push back against the anti-intellectualism seeping into our country and move forward — armed with books and scientific consensus — into the future.
This article was written by Opinion Editor Caroline McCord.