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The Mountain Lion Messenger

The Mountain Lion Messenger

The Extremist Wave in Florida Education

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis receives a ceremonial “Liberty Sword” at the 2022 “Moms for Liberty National Summit” in Tampa, Florida. (via Florida Governor’s Office)

In the election year 2020, former district employee Jennifer Jenkins replaced Tina Descovich, a completely unqualified Brevard County School Board member with nothing but a family and a bachelor’s degree. To cope with her loss, Tina Descovich founded the non-profit organization Moms for Liberty. The organization’s first order of business was to protest and harass Jenkins’ victory.

Moms for Liberty is a Republican-sponsored and Trump-endorsed organization dedicated to the noble task of regulating school bathrooms, preventing students from using their preferred names, banning books such as Anne Frank’s Diary from school libraries, and minimizing the influence of teachers’ unions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classified Moms for Liberty as an extremist hate group. The group boasts ties with the far-right neo-fascist organization “Proud Boys,” as well as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, whose personal values closely align with the organization. The group has nearly 100,000 members across 37 states.

Moms for Liberty’s most notorious scheme is its consistent and pervasive efforts to censor school libraries. The organization focuses its efforts on banning books about sexual identity, the “LGBTQ+ experience,” and material referencing Martin Luther King Jr (referring to the figure as “anti-white”).

Moms for Liberty, however, is just one example of a larger anti-intellectual movement and the far-right’s failed weaponization of American education.

Public education in the United States faces many challenges – poor leadership, terrible management, teacher shortages, and most importantly apathy among students and parents. Efforts to combat these challenges are largely ineffective, being divided among party lines. While Democrats repeatedly throw more money at the issue to little avail, the Republican party has taken an even more ineffective stance on “culture wars.”

At the 2022 and 2023 Federalist Society Education Law and Policy Conferences, the hot topics among conservative minds were subjects like critical race theory, gender identity, and the Biden Administration’s proposed changes to the Title IX regulation (which includes a rewrite of campus sexual assault rules to protect more students).

The discussion at the conference mirrored that of the larger Republican party, with various speakers taking stances on topics they could not define to instill fear. Betsy DeVos, a speaker at the conference and former president Donald Trump’s U.S. Secretary of Education, said in a keynote address, “Since leaving this swamp town less than two short years ago, it’s jaw-dropping what has come to full bloom since. Woke curriculum infused with critical race theory, radical gender ideology, and the intentional disruption of women’s sports, historic, horrifically plummeting student achievement thanks to unnecessary, union-driven school closures, [and] teachers who feel so disempowered they are leaving the profession in droves.”

DeVos’ quote almost perfectly echoes the ideals of Moms for Liberty, showing how entrenched this position has become within the Republican party.

Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis made headlines for his strongman politics against “woke” ideas and corporations such as Disney. DeSantis continuously fails to define what woke means (or any of the other phrases he incessantly repeats), but his general advisor Ryan Newsom defines it as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

In March 2022, DeSantis passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned teachers from talking about anything about sexual orientation from grades K-3. DeSantis expanded the bill to include K-12 in April 2023. In June 2022, DeSantis passed the “Stop WOKE Act,” which bans lessons and training on race and diversity in schools and the workplace. Denying the fact that systemic injustices exist in American society, and then actively working to both censor and maintain them, signifies the contradictory nature of DeSantis’ political beliefs.

Republican politicians and organizations remain consistently incompetent in their educational stances. While it is difficult to argue that the historically liberal control of education is effective, the truth is that the Republican control of education includes all the same faults as the liberal counterpart, but weakens the classroom by injecting a manufactured culture war that targets the most vulnerable students.

When the modern Republican party chooses to align itself with far-right extremist groups such as Moms for Liberty and the neo-fascist Proud Boys, and Republican politicians choose to legislate against gay children and simultaneously argue against the existence of systemic oppression in the United States, their rhetoric should not be taken seriously.

For politicians with little policy, it is easy to maintain political power by blaming problems in Education on the all-encompassing “woke” ideologies. Republican extremists had a brief chance at fixing U.S. education, but they failed, and voters have begun to see through their fear-mongering.

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About the Contributor
Nash Anderson
Nash Anderson, Opinion Editor
Nash Anderson is a junior at Sierra Vista High School. This is his second year of journalism. He enjoys writing stories about politics and is the op-ed editor.

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    Richard GradyDec 29, 2023 at 12:43 pm

    Couldn’t agree more that Republican policies and bullying has worked to endanger public education in Florida. This was once a state where jobs were hard to come by but now educators are running away and or not coming. Shame on Jeb, Scott and now DeSantis who have been wrong on every piece of legislation they have passed. Whether it is failed performance pay, bonuses, underfunding classrooms, educationally unsound rules or laws which impact children and educators the profession continues to spiral downward.