”We needed an opportunity to review them prior to the training in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory,” Debra Pace, the superintendent of the Osceola County School District, wrote in an email to teachers planning to attend the event. School officials had only a summary of Butler’s presentation, and, Pace wrote, “I am mindful of the potential of negative distractions if we are not proactive in reviewing content and planning its presentation carefully.”
In translation, “Florida policy has us intimidated into wanting to second-guess a history professor’s history presentation to teachers, because it might include something someone would describe as critical race theory.” And it’s absolutely likely that a presentation showing the enduring relevance of civil rights activism would trigger some racists who are intent on denying the existence of racism. After all, we’re talking about a movement that has targeted children’s books about specific events in the Civil Rights Movement as being too extreme.
But a DeSantis spokeswoman insisted that this isn’t what the CRT ban was intended to do.
“Critical Race Theory and factual history are two different things. The endless attempts to gaslight Americans by conflating the two are as ineffective as they are tiresome,” she emailed NBC News. “So just to be clear, mixing up ‘teaching history’ with ‘teaching CRT’ is dishonest.”
Well, yeah. It is. But you know who’s doing exactly that in law after law and speech after speech, rebranding “critical race theory” as “anything that could make the most fragile of white people anxious”? Republicans. Like Ron DeSantis. One person’s “theories that distort historical events” can be another person’s carefully documented historical research showing that the stories we’ve always been told about history are inaccurate or leave out important parts of the story.
The CRT ban “makes it so that any topic that falls under the rubric can be labeled as potentially critical race theory,” Butler, the historian whose presentation was canceled, said. “And the end result is that any teacher training any educational program can be canceled, postponed, stonewalled so that it never happens.”
At least one local official agreed. “School districts in Florida are in a precarious position as we navigate the anti-CRT administrative order which has little guidance yet promises to have strong consequences if not implemented,” Osceola County school board member Terry Castillo said in a statement, noting that “school boards have been punished for going against the governor’s orders regarding mask mandates.”
Anti-CRT policies are “about putting the fear of God into teachers and administrators,” Jeffrey Sachs, a political scientist tracking such policies, told Greg Sargent. “Teachers are going to avoid discussing certain topics altogether—topics related to race, sex, and American history that as a society we might want to discuss.
In Florida, that’s exactly what’s happening.