THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2023
In search of The Stop WOKE Act: We sometimes think of the Ron DeSantis administration as the gang that can't blunderbuss straight.
The bluster is general; the clarity is quite hard to find. Some will say that the incoherence is a political strategy. We'd quickly add that the mainstream press corps doesn't seem to notice the incoherence, or perhaps doesn't seem to mind.
For a maddening example of what we mean, return with us to Hannah Natanson's recent report in the Washington Post about the four heroic blue states which "have [recently] passed laws requiring instruction on Black history."
The report appeared last Monday. Natanson started like this:
NATANSON (2/13/23): Even as lessons on Black history draw complaints from Republican governors, who argue the instruction is ideological, several blue states are moving in the opposite direction—mandating classes in African American, Latino and Puerto Rican studies—and setting up a uniquely American division over how we teach our past.
Since 2019, partly in response to the murder of George Floyd, at least four reliably Democratic states—Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and Rhode Island—have passed laws requiring instruction on Black history...Connecticut’s law says African American, Puerto Rican and Latino studies must be included in the social studies component of all public school curriculums. Delaware’s mandates that school districts offer instruction on Black history. Maine’s says that African American studies and the history of genocide must be included in state testing standards. And Rhode Island’s orders schools to include a unit on African History and Heritage.
So began the news report. Three cheers for The Blue State Four!
When we read the report in real time, we thought that opening passage was perhaps a bit over the top. We had that reaction because the well-known state of Florida also has "passed laws requiring instruction on Black history," including one widely-ridiculed law which passed just last year.
Briefly, let's be clear! States can pass such laws all they like. It isn't automatically clear that such laws will be scrupulously observed within that state's public school districts.
Still and all, the state of Florida does have such laws on the books. Part of the text of last year's law reads exactly like this (link provided below):
Members of the instructional staff of the public schools, subject to the rules of the State Board of Education and the district school board, shall teach efficiently and faithfully, using the books and materials required that meet the highest standards for professionalism and historical accuracy, following the prescribed courses of study, and employing approved methods of instruction, the following:
(f) The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present....
(g) The history of the Holocaust (1933-1945), the systematic, planned annihilation of European Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany, a watershed event in the history of humanity, to be taught in a manner that leads to an investigation of human behavior, an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping, and an examination of what it means to be a responsible and respectful person, for the purposes of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society...
(h) The history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society. Instructional materials shall include the contributions of African Americans to American society.
That's right! According to this rarely quoted Florida law, educators in Florida's schools shall teach "the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition and the contributions of African Americans to society."
Also, "the civil rights movement to the present"—educators shall teach that too!
Also, the history of the Holocaust, "taught in a manner that leads to...an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping."
According to last year's law, these are some of the topics which shall be taught in the Florida public schools. For the record, there's more in last year's law where that type of material came from!
Did someone arrange to pass last year's law when DeSantis wasn't looking? Actually, no.
Actually, we're quoting from last year's "Stop WOKE Act," the childishly named Florida law which is often criticized but much less frequently quoted. In fairness to Natanson, she got around to mentioning Florida's (several) laws about teaching black history before her report was finished:
NATANSON: DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement that “it is both dishonest and incorrect for anyone to say Florida limits or prohibits the teaching of African American history”—but added that “Governor DeSantis will not allow ideologues to utilize black history as a vehicle for a political agenda in Florida’s classrooms.”
Griffin pointed out in an email that Florida teachers are already required by law to teach African American history, a requirement reinforced by one of the education bills the governor signed last year, called the “Stop WOKE Act.” In addition to prohibiting instruction that could make students feel “responsibility for ... actions committed in the past by other members of the same race," the act says teachers must discuss “the history of African Americans” and “the contributions of African Americans to American society.”
In the first part of that second paragraph, Natanson cites the Stop WOKE Act, saying it reinforces the pre-existing requirement to teach African American history. By our lights, she then goes on to misquote the Stop WOKE Act—though that's where the pair of problems with which we started this report come back into the story.
In the online version of her report, Natanson offers a link to the Stop WOKE Act. If you actually click the link—we'll assume that no Post reader ever did—it takes you live and direct to the remarkably mangled, unproofread legislative mess which you can peruse right here.
Readers, please understand! The Stop WOKE Act has been kicked around in blue tribe circles ever since it was passed last year.
Given the notoriety of the Stop WOKE Act, you'd almost think that a clear and clean and proofread version of the law would exist somewhere. But as you can see if you click that link, the version to which Natanson links is an ungodly mangled and muddled mess—and we've never been able to find a cleaner version of the famous state law.
Perhaps in part because the document to which Natanson was forced to link is such a remarkable mess, she seems to have misquoted what the bill actually says. For today, we'll leave you with this clue:
The ellipsis which appears in Natanson's quotation is offered here as your clue. If you want to see the way these things work, it can guide you on your "quoted from the wrong section of the bill" treasure hunt.
The Stop WOKE Act has been discussed and discussed and discussed. For our money, we've routinely seen reporters and pundits seem to misdescribe its (admittedly murky) contents.
That said, we've never been able to find a clean version of the bill's text—and we've never seen a mainstream journalist call attention to this ridiculous state of affairs.
Can anyone here play this freaking game? Casey Stengel asked the question first, back when he was managing the hapless New York Mets.
Today, we ask his question again. We ask the question of the state of Florida's blunderbuss state government, but also of the mainstream reporters who seem to be perfectly willing to stumble their way through this partially novelized stew.
Full disclosure: Stengel once told our mother that he liked her because his wife's name was Edna too!
Also, Natanson went to Harvard. Come on, kid! Put it to use!