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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed three new laws Tuesday aimed at strengthening civic literacy in the Sunshine State, including a new requirement that high-school students be taught the “evils of Communism and totalitarian ideologies.”
The first of the bills, HB5, calls on the state Department of Education to:
- require lessons on the United States government to “include a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as Communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States”;
- curate educational resources providing “portraits patriotism based on the personal stories of diverse individuals who demonstrate civic-minded qualities, including first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States”; and
- develop a civics curriculum that promotes understanding of students’ “shared rights and responsibilities as residents of the state and of the founding principles of the United States,” a “sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government at the local, state, and federal levels”; the “process for effectively advocating before government bodies and officials,” and the “civic-minded expectations (…) of an upright and desirable citizenry that recognizes and accepts responsibility for preserving and defending the blessings of liberty inherited from prior generations and secured by the United States Constitution.”
The second bill, SB1108, requires state colleges and universities to test students for civic literacy as a graduation requirement, with civic literacy instruction providing “opportunities to engage synchronously in political discussions and civil debates with multiple points of view and to master the ability to synthesize information that informs civic decision-making.”
The third, HB233, requires state colleges and universities to conduct “annual assessment(s) of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at their institutions, judged by the “extent to which competing ideas and perspectives are presented and members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, feel free to express their beliefs and viewpoints on campus and in the classroom.” It also forbids the State Board of Education from taking action to “shield students, faculty, or staff at Florida College System institutions from free speech.”
“It’s crucial to ensure that we teach our students how to be responsible citizens,” DeSantis said during a press conference and signing ceremony at Three Oaks Middle School, the Daily Caller reported. “They need to have a good working knowledge of American history, American government and the principles that underline our Constitution and Bill of Rights.”
“We have a number of people in Florida, particularly southern Florida, who’ve escaped totalitarian regimes, who’ve escaped communist dictatorships to be able to come to America,” he continued. “We want all students to understand the difference, why would somebody flee across shark-infested waters, say leaving from Cuba to come to southern Florida. Why would somebody leave a place like Vietnam? Why would people leave these countries and risk their life to be able to come here. It’s important students understand that.”
“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately now, the norm is really that these are more intellectually oppressive environments,” the governor lamented. “You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed. We don’t want that in Florida. You need to have a true contest of ideas. Students should not be shielded from ideas and we want robust First Amendment speech on our college and university campuses.”
The new laws come amid a growing nationwide revolt against public educators’ promotion of critical race theory (CRT), a doctrine asserting that “law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic, and political inequalities between whites and nonwhites, especially African Americans.” Several states including Florida have already moved to prohibit schools from promoting CRT as true; DeSantis has gone a step further in hopes of making schools proactively pro-American.
The new education laws are the latest in a long list of conservative accomplishments DeSantis has delivered since taking office in 2019, including legislation and executive actions to strengthen election security, pioneer legal remedies to internet censorship, ban sanctuary cities, require parental consent for minors’ abortions, keep males who claim to be female out of women’s athletic programs, toughen penalties for riot-related offenses, crack down on foreign influence in higher education, require schools to provide silent time students can use for daily prayer if they so choose, and strengthen transparency and parental consent for sex education; as well as opposing COVID-based school closings, vaccine passports, mask mandates, and local lockdowns.
That record has fueled conservatives’ interest in DeSantis as a potential Republican nominee for president in 2024. Last weekend, DeSantis narrowly beat former President Donald Trump in a 2024 straw poll of the Western Conservative Summit’s estimated 500 attendees.