Florida wants to indoctrinate public school teachers with Christian nationalism in the hopes that they’ll spread the misinformation to their students in the upcoming school year. That’s the clear takeaway based on how teachers are being trained under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ multi-million-dollar “Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative.”
Over the summer, ten voluntary three-day training seminars are taking place across the state. Teachers who attend receive a $700 stipend and are eligible for a $3,000 bonus if they complete additional tasks—which is all to say many educators are likely to attend one of these sessions if they can.
They goal of the seminars, in theory, is to give these teachers professional development on the state’s K-12 civics goals. The goals themselves aren’t alarming—they include studying primary sources, teaching kids about government participation, and making sure they know their rights and responsibilities as citizens. But the alarm bells should start to go off when you see who’s putting together these sessions.
According to the Miami Herald, the workshops were “developed with the help of Hillsdale College,” a conservative Christian school in Michigan known for spreading historical David Barton-esque misinformation. Also helping? The “Bill of Rights Institute” founded by one of the right-wing Koch brothers.
And then you see what they’re teaching. Here’s just a sampling of 200 pages’ worth of slides from the workshops: They endorse the Christian nationalist beliefs that conservative Christianity was the bedrock of our country, that church/state separation as we know it is a myth, and that the Christian God gave us the rights we have:
None of that ahistorical indoctrination escaped the attention of teachers who attended the first seminar in June, saw the slides, and listened to the trainers inject their own brand of Christian lies into the sessions:
“It was very skewed,” said Barbara Segal, a 12th-grade government teacher at Fort Lauderdale High School. “There was a very strong Christian fundamentalist way toward analyzing different quotes and different documents. That was concerning.”
Several presentation slides emphasized that it was a “misconception” that the “Founders desired strict separation of church and state and the Founders only wanted to protect Freedom of worship.” During breakout sessions, the state’s presenters repeatedly mentioned the influence Jesus Christ and the Bible had on the country’s foundation.
“There was this Christian nationalism philosophy that was just baked into everything that was there,” [Richard Judd, 50, a Nova High School social studies teacher with 22 years of experience,] said.
It’s one thing if teachers recognize the manipulation in play here. A lot of veteran educators will no doubt be able to sniff out the bullshit. But many newer, younger teachers who don’t pay attention to the culture war battles over history may have no clue they’re being lied to by Christian nationalists who have every incentive to spread lies about history to make their conservative vision of America look far better than it actually is.
This is all about indoctrinating the next generation of teachers, so they can inadvertently indoctrinate the next generation of students.
The same workshops also downplayed slavery, overhyped the impact that Judeo-Christian beliefs had on the nation’s founding documents, and implied that the conservative judicial philosophy that the Founders’ desires are all that matter is baked into our legal system rather than being a deliberate choice Republicans made. It’s all bullshit, all the way down, and it’s happening because conservatives in Florida at the highest levels of government are more interested in spreading lies than educating kids, knowing that’s good for their political futures. There’s a reason the training sessions are being promoted by conservative propagandists with a long history of spreading lies to shape culture war battles in Republicans’ favor.
It’s ultimately bad news for students, too. Not just because many of them won’t receive the education they deserve through no fault of their own, but because better colleges will think twice before admitting a student who went to a Florida high school, knowing that they may lack basic knowledge about our country’s history. Similar arguments were made years ago when students were being taught “Intelligent Design” instead of actual science.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed a public records request with the Florida Department of Education for all documents connected with the trainings.
Americans United President and CEO Rachel Laser said: “Americans United is considering all options. We’re not going to sit by while politicians smuggle white Christian Nationalism into public school curriculums under the guise of good citizenship. This is another attack in the long war religious extremists and their lawmaker allies have launched on our public schools, as is the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which shamefully takes effect in Florida today.
Separately, in a letter to Florida DoE Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., the Freedom From Religion Foundation called for more accurate training materials… though it’s likely their demand will just be ignored by Republicans who have no interest in accuracy.
The Florida Department of Education is a public entity and must make its decisions based on truth, accuracy, and expertise, not on political or religious ideology. It should not be misleading and miseducating students regarding the nation’s legal and founding history. We urge the Department of Education to consult with unbiased experts to remove the inaccurate materials from its curriculum to promote an accurate and secular understanding of the country’s history as the Constitution protects.
That’s not to downplay FFRF’s letter. Sometimes, educating the public about how they’re being lied to is as important as calling for change.
None of that will likely change the training sessions anytime soon. DeSantis and his allies have repeatedly argued that comprehensive, secular education is a form of liberal indoctrination while doing everything they can to shove historical and scientific lies into public schools, fueled by conservative dollars and Christian academics. They can’t win on the facts, so they’ll attempt to win with lies, and Christian nationalists are supporting them all the way.