Anti-Woke Classroom Rules Threaten Florida’s School Choice Achievements

“DeSantis and state Republicans’ overall support for school choice makes for a sharp contrast with their one-size-fits-all approach to teaching race, gender, and sexuality.
“Parents….should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids as young as 5 years old,” DeSantis said in March 2022, when he signed H.B. 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, into law. Colloquially known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, it forbids any classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for students from kindergarten through third grade. That part of the law is what DeSantis and H.B. 1557 defenders want to draw the most attention to, and it probably seems eminently reasonable to many people. But another part of the law forbids any classroom instruction “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” in all grades—giving the state’s Board of Education wide latitude to decide what can and cannot be discussed in every classroom.

In April 2023, the board did exactly what the law’s critics feared: It banned all classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity across all grades unless it was required as part of state education standards or as part of a health instruction class that parents could opt their students out of. A follow-up bill, H.B. 1069, passed in May, expanded the reach of H.B. 1557 to charter schools—schools that were explicitly created as alternatives to traditional public schools. Parents who want their children taught about these topics would need to turn either to private schools or to homeschooling.

Florida’s education standards did call for classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in high school psychology classes, where they’re clearly relevant topics. But in July, the state’s Department of Education removed those standards, seemingly forbidding high school psychology teachers from teaching the subjects. In August, the College Board, the nonprofit that helps coordinate programs and test students for Advanced Placement (A.P.) classes, warned that Florida students might not get college credit for A.P. psychology classes if these subjects were removed from the state’s curriculum, noting that these topics had been part of the class for 30 years.

Immediately after that warning was issued, Florida Education Commissioner Manny Díaz Jr. sent a letter to the College Board assuring that the class “can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate and the course remains listed in our course catalog.” This seems to have satisfied the College Board. “We hope that Florida teachers are able to teach the full course, including content on gender and sexual orientation, without fear of punishment in the upcoming school year,” a spokesperson says.

The state’s Department of Education has put out guidance to school districts that the law doesn’t require schools to remove library books. But H.B. 1069 creates a legal framework for parents to demand books be removed from schools that mandates schools comply first and then investigate the objection. In October, the Florida Freedom to Read Project calculated there had been at least 4,000 unique attempts in the state to remove books from state schools since October 2021.

These dynamics, while being presented by politicians and conservative proponents as supporting “parents’ rights” to decide how their children are educated, in reality give a small group of people wide authority to attempt to censor educational materials regardless of the desires of local parents and students.

“School choice is a way to sidestep the politics of the classroom altogether,” Reason Foundation’s Christian Barnard notes. But Florida reminds us that even in a strong school choice system, there’s still a risk of politicians pushing their ideas into the classroom.”

Chris Rufo’s dangerous fictions

“This summer, Rufo published a book outlining the worldview behind his crusade. The book, titled America’s Cultural Revolution, argues that America has been quietly taken over by the ideological heirs of 1960s radicals. Ideas formulated by Marxist revolutionaries and Black nationalists, disguised in benign-sounding language like “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI), have completed a “long march” through America’s major institutions — starting from universities and emanating outward to government and corporate life. The book’s subtitle, “How the Radical Left Conquered Everything,” illustrates the sheer scope of the argument.
But the more I examined Rufo’s work, the weaker it started to look. His worldview is built on a foundation of exaggerations and misrepresentations — distortions that make it difficult to trust even his basic factual assertions, let alone his big-picture analysis of American society.

Rufo claims that the American system as we know it has been overthrown, subtly and quietly replaced by “a new ideological regime that is inspired by … critical theories and administered through the capture of the bureaucracy.” Rufo’s “counterrevolution” is aimed at reversing this process; taking America back, starting with Florida’s universities.”

“His documentation of the far left’s follies and violent excesses can be damning.

But many of his assertions, like the claim of secret regime change in America, are far less defensible. When pressed in an interview to defend some of his most extreme positions, Rufo ultimately claimed to be writing in “a kind of artful and kind of narrative manner” that does not always admit of literal interpretation. The retreat was necessary given the glaring lack of real-world policy evidence for what he had written and said.

The seemingly credible evidence Rufo presents of radical influence — the mainstreaming of once-radical concepts like “structural racism,” for example — thus ends up undermining his case. When radical language goes mainstream without accompanying radical shifts in policy, that’s not actually evidence of a radical takeover. If anything, it looks like a win for the liberal mainstream, which seemingly has coopted radical ideas and redirected them toward more moderate ends.”

“It follows, then, that Rufo’s “counterrevolution” is not countering much of anything. His war on American institutions is not a defensive action against an ascendant post-Marxist left; it is instead an act of aggression against the liberal ideals he occasionally claims to be defending.”

“It’s certainly true that once-radical notions, like seeing racism as a core part of American national identity, have become more popular on the left in recent years. But this does not mean American democracy has been quietly overthrown and replaced with rule by DEI departments.

Rufo cites, as evidence of the influence of “critical theory” across America, diversity trainings at Lockheed Martin and Raytheon that used the term “white privilege” and similar concepts in their documents. This, he argues, is proof that “even federal defense contractors have submitted to the new ideology.”

But the notion that American arms manufacturers have been taken over by radicals is ridiculous. Lockheed Martin builds weapons to maintain the American war machine. It is not owned or controlled in any way by sincere believers in the Third Worldist anti-imperialism of the 1960s radicals; it is using the now-popular terms those radicals once embraced to burnish its own image.

Rufo is getting the direction of influence backward. Radicals are not taking over Lockheed Martin; Lockheed Martin is co-opting radicalism.”

“the main pieces of data once used as evidence of the ascent of far-left radicalism — things like cancellations of conservative speeches on college campuses — show a decline from previous highs. These numbers, which were quite low even at their peak, simply do not support the idea that the country’s major institutions are succumbing to Herbert Marcuse thought (even in an attenuated form).

There are counterexamples: Rufo makes much of the “defund the police” movement, as well as 2020-era policy victories by radicals in cities like Seattle and Portland. But Joe Biden, a man who wrote the 1994 Crime Bill and campaigned in the 2022 midterms using “fund the police” as a slogan, is president. The most common criminal justice reforms after George Floyd’s murder weren’t police abolition, but rather chokehold bans and personnel reforms. Even in West Coast cities, mayors and city councilors are backing away from police defunding.

Liberalism, in short, has made “structural racism” safe for Lockheed Martin. Whether you like that depends on your politics. But it is not evidence of a radical regime change in America.”

“n a series of 2021 tweets, for example, Rufo framed his writing about “critical race theory” as a form of political marketing.

“We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category,” he wrote. “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

What he’s describing isn’t a journalistic approach to “critical race theory.” It’s the mindset of a dishonest political attack dog, one that seemed to validate criticisms that he had played fast and loose with evidence. Rufo’s involvement with Trump and DeSantis further suggested he was less of a serious interlocutor than an operative.”

“Exaggerations weren’t just a problem with the book’s big-picture premise. The more I fact-checked what he said, the clearer the pattern of exaggeration and factual missteps became.”

“Rufo has practiced what he preached at the New College of Florida, where he has used his appointment to the board to fire the university president, eliminate the DEI office, and abolish gender studies. Now over one-third of all faculty positions are vacant, decimating the university’s course offerings in the fall semester. While enrollment is up, an investigation by the USA Today Network found that average SAT scores, ACT scores, and GPAs were all down. Some students were told to live at an airport hotel.

When I asked Rufo about the chaos, he compared his approach to remodeling a kitchen: “You do the demo and then you do the build.”

It’s a metaphor that only makes sense if you believe that the existing university is so broken that it can’t be saved in its current form.”

“Both Rufo’s operation in Florida and his broader “counter-revolution” can only be defended if the system is so captured by the radical left that the only solution is to burn the entire thing to the ground and start over. Otherwise, you’re attacking the same American institutions you claim to be defending.

This, ultimately, is why Rufo must exaggerate the influence of the radical left. The only way to reconcile the yawning gap between his restorationist rhetoric and burn-it-all-down activism is to claim that America faces an unprecedented threat — a “cultural revolution” organized by the intellectual heirs of literal Maoists.”

The far right’s war on “woke” has real-world consequences for the military

“Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville has held up the confirmation of more than 260 generals for new command posts — including members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the head of the Marine Corps — over his objections to the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
Tuberville, a former football coach who is closely allied with former President Donald Trump, has refused to go forward with the routine confirmations and is essentially using defense policy as leverage to promote his cultural ideology. But the Department of Defense has repeatedly warned that holding up the confirmations is damaging the military’s chain of command at the highest levels, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff — especially concerning amid a time of increasing tension between the US and China, and as the US supports Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

“These are our nominees who have incredibly important jobs all around the world, who are working with our partners and allies,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said in an interview with Fox News Thursday. “And it sends a message to our adversaries.”

Any senator can hold up these confirmations, even if the other 99 wish to move forward with them, because of the Senate concept of unanimous consent, which is not a formal Senate rule but allows the body to make changes to regular order to expedite legislating such as allowing batch confirmations. Unanimous consent can apply to all different parts of the Senate’s legislative process — everything from limiting debates and amendments to scheduling votes — and essentially means that the body has decided to dispense with the Senate’s usual procedures in the interests of moving business forward. It’s not always part of the legislative process, but it’s used so often that there are rules and precedents surrounding it.

The Senate has long relied on unanimous consent to promote military personnel through batch confirmations, but with Tuberville’s hold, the only way to move the confirmations forward would be to vote on them one by one, through regular order. Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Associated Press that doing so would take up to 84 days with the chamber working regular, eight-hour days, or 27 days if they worked “around the clock.”

Tuberville’s hold, which could affect 650 military promotions by the year’s end, is based on a misrepresentation of how the Pentagon’s abortion policy works. And he isn’t the only Republican using legislation related to the military to force right-wing policies into defense policy. House Freedom Caucus members scored a victory this week when the House passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that included amendments limiting abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, and diversity, equality, and inclusion programs. “This bill has been transformed into an extremist manifesto,” House Minority Whip Katherine Clark told CNN after the bill passed.

In a macro sense, right-wing Republicans’ push to undo progress in the DoD both echoes and foreshadows their intent to halt the business of governing to try to codify policies that many Americans don’t support. And on a more specific scale, it affects the overall functioning of the military — everything from funding, to the chain of command, down to military families trying to plan moves to new bases. Tuberville and House Freedom Caucus members are also breaking with decades of Republican tradition by failing to support the military and military policy.”

Florida has launched an “unparalleled” assault on higher education

“The bill also limits tenure protections for faculty members. Tenure is a lifetime academic appointment granted to professors who meet designated requirements and can be terminated only for cause or under extraordinary circumstances. Under the law, there must be a post-tenure review of state university faculty every five years to assess accomplishments and productivity, teaching duties, student evaluations, compensation, and potential improvement plans. Faculty members do not have the right to appeal grievances beyond the university president.
University presidents are now responsible for hiring, disciplining, and firing the school provost, deans, and full-time faculty. The law specifically instructs presidents to not be bound by the recommendations or opinions of faculty members when making hiring decisions. As part of their expanded role, presidents must also present yearly performance evaluations and salaries of any personnel earning more than $200,000 to the board of trustees.

Together, the law strengthens the powers of university leaders and weakens the autonomy of faculty members. The bill threatens academic freedom, according to AAUP, since it limits the teaching of certain topics in the general education curriculum and halts funding for DEI measures, among other limitations. Faculty told the AAUP that the laws are “Orwellian” and that Florida is a “canary in a coal mine.””