DeSantis views academic freedom and freedom of speech as liabilities to be stamped out, not unlike what happened in Nazi Germany.

by Henry A. Giroux, LA Progressive

Fascism in its different forms has always thrived on attacking teachers, schools, critical ideas, democratic values, and allegedly unpatriotic groups while stifling dissent in the alleged name of freedom. Ron DeSantis is a religious, political, and ideological demagogue whose view of power is as ruthless as it is opportunistic. He views academic freedom and freedom of speech as liabilities to be stamped out, not unlike what happened in Nazi Germany. He has weaponized the government to punish industries such as Disney who challenged his “don’t say gay” bill. The dangerous nature of this precedent should be clear, particularly regarding how it resonates with tactics used in repressive regimes in the past.[1] He has signed into law Bill 233 which requires Florida’s public colleges and universities to conduct annual surveys of students’ and faculty members’ beliefs in order “to determine the institutions’ levels of ‘intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity’.” One can only assume that those with views at odds with DeSantis’s view of history, politics, and authority will be labeled as “unpatriotic” and will be pressured to conform to his indoctrinating pedagogy and policies or lose their jobs. This is not unlike what happened in the witch hunts conducted during the McCarthy era by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1950s in which a number of faculty were fired for having alleged subversive views.[2] In addition, DeSantis’s banning ideas, and entire fields of study–such as gender and race studies– aims to turn learning at the college and university levels into a form of stupidity, one whose ultimate goal is to undercut the ability of young people to think critically, learn from history, and make power accountable.

Members of the LGBTQ+ community and supporters protest FL Gov Ron DeSantis

Every level of education is under siege in Florida. Regarding public education, DeSantis intensifies and expands a policy of erasure and manufactured ignorance that is endemic to the GOP which provides the driving momentum for a nationwide banning of books and restrictions on teaching about race and gender in public schools. As Julianne Malveaux notes, “More than 1600 books have been banned in 138 school districts in 33 states so far, as the momentum for ignorance is increasing. Among the banned books – Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved; and Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale.”[3] In addition, as Sarah Schwartz points out in Education Week: “Since January 2021, lawmakers in 44 states have introduced bills or other policies that would restrict how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis. Eighteen states have imposed these bans.”[4]

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