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Stand Up to Bullies


If I taught in Florida, no question I’d be worried for my job. But here’s my question for those who teach in Florida: What are you going to do? Because DeSantis is coming for you whether you stand up to him or cower. He’s going to keep going. This is fascism and the fascists have identified enemies–teachers and professors. When has putting your head in the sand actually worked? I get it–Lord knows, I get it. It seems like life would be easier. But is it? It just leads to fear. The only way to deal with bullies–and DeSantis is nothing if not a bully–is to stand up to them. Thus, if I taught in Florida, I’d like to think that I would just do what I do anyway–and given my long record of getting in serious trouble from the right-wingers and administration, I hope I have the credibility to make this believable sitting here in Rhode Island where I am lucky enough to be employed. In any case, all respect to this guy. Sure he’s old and has nothing to lose. But it’s the only way to move forward here.

The painful chapter in Florida’s history known as the Newberry Six lynchings is one the university professor has taken pains to help document over decades of research. It’s also one that he fears will be removed from Florida history lessons under a new education law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as part of a broader push to root out ideas he deems “woke.”

The law requires lessons on race to be taught in “an objective manner,” and not “used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” It also says students should not be made to “feel guilt” because of actions committed by others in the past. DeSantis and other proponents of the law, which went into effect last summer, contend some teachers have inserted political beliefs into lessons related to race.

The language in the legislation dubbed the Stop Woke Act is sufficiently vague that educators and civil rights leaders worry it is having a chilling effect. The new law doesn’t prohibit teaching events like the Newberry lynchings, but teachers in several parts of the state said they fear it will compel them to water down or gloss over uncomfortable truths about Florida’s past.

“I can’t tell the story of the Newberry Six without expressing my disgust for the lynching of a pregnant woman,” said Dunn, 82, a professor emeritus at Florida International University. “As a teacher who has spent 30 years going from place to place in Florida where the most atrocious things have happened, I don’t know how to do that. And I don’t want the state telling me that I must.”

Nationwide, education has emerged as a political battleground between Republican lawmakers and other conservatives who equate many lessons on race, gender and identity with liberal indoctrination and Democratic leaders, teachers and others who contend omitting them is tantamount to whitewashing history and hiding difficult truths from students.

Dozens of states have enacted or considered laws banning or restricting critical race theory in the classroom, but Florida has gone a step further than most. DeSantis has not just moved legislation but also has used his education department to target academic programs and initiatives embraced elsewhere and appointed like-minded officials to state and local boards.

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education rejected an Advanced Placement African American studies course offered by the College Board after determining that it is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” The White House on Friday called the decision “incomprehensible.”

In Duval County, school administrators recently held back 26 books from elementary schools — including “Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates” and “Climbing Lincoln’s Steps: The African American Journey” — until a committee determines if they meet the standards of the new state law.

This is what DeSantis is counting on–intimidating into not only compliance but going well beyond technical compliance. I mean, I doubt even DeSantis had in mind kids books about Roberto Clemente, but why not?

Here’s the alternative:

But Dunn is intent on defying the governor — even if it comes at a personal cost. Last year, a neighbor who complained to police that he was angry at seeing “busloads of these Black bastards” at Dunn’s property was charged with assault after allegedly yelling racial slurs to the professor and a small group preparing for an event.

Dunn is one of eight plaintiffs in a lawsuit over DeSantis’s law, formally the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act, which also applies to public university professors. A federal judge ruled against the state in November, ordering a temporary injunction against portions of the act that restrict how college and university professors teach about race.

“Listen, if there is such a thing as the woke mob in Florida, I aspire to lead it,” Dunn said.

Meanwhile, Dunn’s statewide “Teach the Truth” tours are taking high school students to the sites of some of the worst racial violence in Florida history. His first tour in January took more than two dozen high school students from Miami and their family members to a museum that marks where married Black civil rights activists Harry T. Moore and Harriette V.S. Moore were killed on Christmas Day 1951 when a bomb planted under their home exploded.

A nonprofit Dunn leads in Miami to promote Black history is sponsoring the tours, and he plans to take another group during the spring legislative session.

“These are things that nobody knew, it’s like it was swept under the rug,” said Shanika Marshall, who took her teenage son on the tour. “I feel very strongly that this history needs to be told. There’s no shame, it just is what it is, but it needs to be put at the forefront so we can all try to get past it.”

Make DeSantis stop this. What is he going to do? Throw Dunn in prison? What are they really go to do? That’s what you have to make them answer. Because they aren’t really prepared for that, not in any thought out way. And the more you make them enforce the “law,” the more ridiculous, evil, and fascist they look. I’d rather go out this way than getting fired anyway for voting for Democrats or whatever comes next in Florida.

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