By Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Saying he wants Florida to be the “number-one state for civic literacy,” Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday signed bills aimed at boosting civics education in public schools and gauging “intellectual freedom” on college campuses.
During a bill-signing event at a Fort Myers middle-school library, DeSantis capped some of his priorities from the legislative session that ended April 30 — emphasizing patriotism in civics instruction and fighting what he describes as “indoctrination” in education.
“Ultimately, these kids will probably all do different pathways in life,” DeSantis said, flanked by students and Republican bill sponsors. “All of those people are going to be citizens, they’re all going to be part of making sure that our country is able to preserve the freedoms that we possess.”
The first measure the governor highlighted (HB 5) was only three pages long but will seek to reshape the way civics is taught to students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The bill, set to go into effect July 1, will direct the state Department of Education to develop a civics curriculum that aims to “assist students in developing” an understanding of four concepts, including the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen.
The bill also describes a goal for the curriculum to develop a “sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government at the local, state and federal levels.” It also aims to teach about advocating before the government and an understanding of the “civic-minded expectations” of an “upright and desirable citizenry” as defined by the State Board of Education.
The measure also will revise social-studies requirements for high school graduation to include in U.S. Government courses “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.”
The Department of Education also will be directed to create a video library dubbed “Portraits In Patriotism.” The video library will include “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who backed the measure during the legislative session, appeared at Tuesday’s event and touted the part of the bill creating a video library.
“No matter how many times you read something in a book, it just doesn’t come alive the same way when you’re sitting with someone or talking to them,” Sprowls said.
DeSantis also on Tuesday signed a measure (SB 1108) requiring state college and university students to take a civic literacy course and assessment as a graduation requirement.
The measure also will require high school students to take a civic literacy exam that DeSantis said “doesn’t have high-stakes consequences,” but students who pass the test will be exempt from taking the newly required civics assessment in college.
Of the three measures DeSantis signed Tuesday, the most controversial was a bill (HB 233) geared toward gauging “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” at colleges and universities.
The measure will require the state university system’s Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to create an “objective, nonpartisan and statistically valid survey.” The survey will be given to students, faculty and staff at the schools, and the resulting data will be published.
“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas. Unfortunately now, the norm is really, these are intellectually repressive environments,” DeSantis said, adding that “students should not be shielded from ideas.”
But the progressive organization Florida Watch criticized DeSantis’ signing of the measure, saying the governor is “focusing on non-existent issues rather than confronting the real problems” facing Floridians.
“Instead, Governor DeSantis and Republicans in the Legislature spent this session targeting our public universities with partisan attacks,” the group’s Executive Director Josh Weierbach said in part of a statement.
DeSantis, however, contended that the bills collectively seek to teach concepts that are “foundational” to a complete civics education.
“Understanding the Bill of Rights, understanding other key amendments to the Constitution, understanding the differences between federal and state Constitution,” DeSantis said. “There’s all these different things that I think are fundamental.”