As a very nice person, as well as my friend, and my roommate when we were teaching in India, I respect Peter Isackson, which is why it pains me to say this: Peter’s article about Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education’s rejection of a proposed advanced placement pilot course about African American Studies isn’t credible.
Peter tells us “De Santis [sic] has already taken measures to ensure that his state has on its books the kind of politically useful laws that empower him to carry out his aggressive crusade in defense of the increasingly maligned truth of what he and his voters think of as ‘real America.’ Or, stated with more accuracy, white America.” He goes on to say “ingrained racism is still a feature of the American psyche,” which appears to be the prism through which Peter filters his rationale for why the AP course didn’t pass muster.
It seems in Peter’s mind DeSantis’ popularity is due to racism, specifically white racism, even more specifically we’re talking about white, Republican racism. This is a facile argument I increasingly hear, and it’s unlikely. Let’s start off with the numbers.
DeSantis’ Political Rise
Numbers can be contorted into “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” but they’re helpful. Florida has a total of 14,596,866 active voters. Of those, 5,325,589 are Republicans and 4,969,377 are Democrats. An additional 4 million have no party affiliation, and a few hundred thousand are with a minor party. The sum of the two main parties is 10,294,966 people. If we just take these and their 10M+ voters, the split is 51.73% for Republicans and 48.27% for Democrats. In terms of partisanship, this is hardly California.
Oh, and those DeSantis voters who Peter thinks are driving DeSantis’ pandering about “real America,” which is really code for “white America”? It’s worth noting that not even half of the Republicans in Florida are white. It would be tough to win a racist landslide election with fewer than 2.7 million white, Republican votes.
And by “tough” I mean “really tough,” and by “a landslide” I mean “an ass whooping.” If we look at the last election, there were all of 7,720,523 votes cast, so only about half of Florida’s registered voters went to the polls. Of them, Ron DeSantis got a total of 4,614,210 votes for 59.37% of the vote, and the hapless, perennially flip-flopping Charlie Crist got a total of 3,106,313 for 39.97% of the vote. That’s a 19-point spread. What a drubbing Charlie got from the racists!
To get to these kinds of numbers with Peter’s assertions, we must make some pretty wild assumptions about the ratio of Republican to Democrat-affiliated lever-pullers. If only those registered with the respective parties showed up on election day (or cast mail in ballots), you’d need 86.64% of the Rs versus 62.51% of the Ds. This assumes a purely heads up between the parties, and since some of the unaffiliated would have voted, we have to assume that crowd has a bunch of dyed-in-the-wool racists who majorly sided with Republicans. Or maybe some of the Democrats went racist on their own party. Talk about going rogue! None of this is remotely probable.
To be fair, it’s hard to love Charlie Crist. He floats with the breeze and seems to possess few principles beyond a strong personal sense that he should be in elected office. As the only person to have lost statewide Florida elections as a Republican, an Independent, and a Democrat, the man is a party opportunist, with pretty much any policy position up for negotiation. In this case, he was soundly defeated even with his bend-with-the-breeze positions. Some have argued there was an enthusiasm gap that justified such a shellacking, but the rest of the national races don’t bear that out. Democrats were fired up to vote after Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the “red wave” never materialized. There clearly is something more to DeSantis’ popularity than racism.
If you want to buy the idea that “racist” Democrats voted for DeSantis, I have another fly in the ointment for you: black moms might be the reason DeSantis became governor in the first place. In 2018 the Wall Street Journal reported: “Of the roughly 650,000 black women who voted in Florida, 18% chose Mr. DeSantis, according to CNN’s exit poll of 3,108 voters. This exceeded their support for GOP U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott (9%), Mr. DeSantis’s performance among black men (8%) and the GOP’s national average among black women (7%)… [I]n an election decided by fewer than 40,000 votes, these 100,000 black women proved decisive. Their apparent ticket splitting helps to explain why the Florida governor’s race wasn’t as close as the Florida Senate race…”. That certainly is awkward for the DeSantis-as-racist crowd. Maybe he turned into a big-time racist after he became governor?
The Advanced Placement Brouhaha
It would be worth noting what was originally in the curriculum of this AP class that so many people are discussing, but Peter’s piece never goes there. If it’s so racist to shut it down, why not discuss the class itself? It does have merits, though I would likely find fewer than Peter would. Let’s have that conversation. Or what about the letter the Florida Department of Education sent? I admit it offered few clues about what it didn’t like about the course, but might we deduce something from that letter and the reaction of the board that designed the class? I don’t know if others have looked at the original curriculum, but I did.
There are certainly a lot of questionable topics. As for the educational value of “quilting traditions,” “the Black national anthem,” and “gender” (the last one mentioned 17 times), it’s debatable. If you’re looking for critical race theory, this course had it. There was at least one ivory tower, jargony reading I attempted to wade through by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham on race and its “powerful, all-encompassing effect on the construction and representation of other social and power relations, namely, gender, class, and sexuality.” Of course, we have a reading by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and no points for knowing where that one goes. It’s all race, class, and identity. Ditto for bell hooks and her “gimmicky thing.” There was also a bit in the course about black queer studies (more on that in a minute), which “Explores the concept of the queer of color critique grounded in Black feminism and intersectionality as a Black studies lens that shifts sexuality studies toward racial analysis.” The original course liked the idea of “intersectionality” and mentioned it 15 times.
There has been some discussion that this is all about avoiding black history of any kind in Florida, but that’s rubbish. Florida has statutory language saying it’s required.
“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 history and contributions of Americans of the African diaspora to society. Students shall develop an understanding of the ramifications of prejudice, racism, and stereotyping on individual freedoms, and examine what it means to be a responsible and respectful person for the purpose of encouraging tolerance of diversity in a pluralistic society, and for nurturing and protecting democratic values and institutions.”
I also see a whole lot of talk in the course about African empires, but if you’re going to study history in high school, shouldn’t you know who Caesar or Alexander the Great were before you learn about the empires of Ghana, Mali, or Songhai? In terms of devoting classroom time to the dance moves of Beyonce, I assume the kiddos will get enough of that on TikTok. If you want to be an African specialist, by all means get your PhD and reside in the ivory tower, but I would rather the subjects in this AP course impartially ground students with less one-sided progressive indoctrination, particularly when the taxpayer is footing the bill.
David Coleman, the head of the College Board said, that “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” but the state of Florida reimburses school districts’ course exam costs. Whoops, guess you do have to listen to what the elected politicians say since “Acceptance for the new curriculum is important to the College Board, a nonprofit, because A.P. courses are a major source of revenue. The board took in more than $1 billion in program service revenue in 2019, of which more than $490 million came from ‘AP and Instruction,’ according to its tax-exempt filing.”
Peter links to a BBC piece that calls the class “a new advanced-level high school course that teaches African American history.” But Ron DeSantis makes the point that “This course on Black history, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?” And you know what? DeSantis is correct; it’s right there in the syllabus. Peter’s article never mentions anything about the course. It’s just taken to be a good thing (whatever the thing is), and we’re told racism motivated the rejection. Yet it’s worth asking if such a course would pass muster with Florida voters. Odds are long on that one.
AP Course: Rejection and Reconsideration
When the course was rejected, the Gov’s office said the syllabus “leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow”. Okay, so submit a more thorough lesson plan. It’s not like the Department of Education won’t take another look. Quite the opposite.
The Florida Department of Education rejection letter noted “In the future, should the College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, (the education department) will always be willing to reopen the discussion.” That’s vague but hardly “case closed,” and to be fair to Peter, he admits it. The Department spokesperson Bryan Griffin added: “If the College Board amends the course to comply, provides a full course curriculum, and incorporates historically accurate content, then the Department will reconsider the course for approval.” In a quick capitulation, the College Board quickly said it would revise the curriculum, so it’s not like the board itself is dying on this hill. In fact, perhaps feeling they had overstepped, they quickly revised the course, saying they had done so in December.
The suggestion that DeSantis is running a KKK dog whistle governorship doesn’t add up. While the Left hyperventilates about “eras[ing] Black history” in a “chilling precursor to state-sponsored dehumanization of an entire race of people” (whoa Nelly) and laments the excised material about “the relationship between race, class and feminism” (while also, naturally, “erasing Black history”), others will see it for what it is: a revised curriculum that may or may not yield a worthwhile course.
The revised version has no guarantee of passing muster, and even The New York Times admits “There are hints that the College Board is embedding some of the disputed material, without being explicit about it.” John McWhorter, a columnist at the same paper, says “to pretend that controversial views on race from the left are truth incarnate is being dishonest about race as well. It sacrifices logic out of a quiet terror of being called racist (or, if Black, self-hating). How that is progressive or even civil in a real way is unclear to me. In being honest enough to push past the agitprop, I hate having to say that in this case, DeSantis, of all people, was probably right.” Still, the two sides appear to be making progress of some kind.
Simplistic Narratives Miss the Point
The Left-wing narrative of Republicans as racists is turning into the boy who cried wolf. Seemingly every time we hear about a Republican gaining traction, the word “racist” is thrown out there. Often you hear loud, screedy shouts claiming said politician is a “bigot” (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”), but this misunderstands DeSantis’ popularity.
Many of his policies are more popular than the progressive Left would like to believe. As I pointed out about the supposed “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a poll during the brouhaha when that law was a bill was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and showed “Democratic voters support the law by 55% to 29%. Biden voters swing 53% to 30% in its favor. Even those who ‘know someone LGBTQ’ go 61% for and 28% against, and just to show that Disney is on the wrong side of this, parents like the law to the tune of 67% to 24%.” Unhappy with DeSantis’ popularity, success or both, Democrats have had to content themselves with polls showing Disney itself is more popular than DeSantis, whatever that’s supposed to prove.
Similarly, a New York Times morning newsletter recently had the headline “Fox News for Universities” with the subheading “Conservatives are trying to do to higher education what they did to the news media and think tanks” discussing Governor DeSantis’ recent higher education moves. Sounds scary, right? But the lead is buried: “The public appears to agree that [left-leaning higher education] is a problem: A majority have said that campus politics lean toward one direction and that there’s too much concern about protecting students from views they might find offensive, a 2019 Pew Research Center poll found.” The zinger comes as the piece continues, “So DeSantis is rallying not only his core supporters with this issue but potentially swing voters as well.” Democrats may be dismissing DeSantis and maligning his policies at their peril.
Peter’s piece is, as Peter’s pieces always are, nicely written, but his premise is pure accusatory misinformation. Why do I call it that? Because Peter says that misinformation “concerns the distortion of information” by which “the complaint isn’t merely an objection.” When it does so, “It quickly takes the form of an accusation.”
[Fair Observer’s editorial piece made corrections to this piece on April 1, 2023 at 9.05 am Eastern Time.]
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