South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

South Florida teachers alarmed by civics training

Concern involves state infusion of religion, downplayin­g of race and certain aspects of history

- By Ana Ceballos and Sommer Brugal

Several South Florida high school educators are alarmed that a new state civics initiative designed to prepare students to be “virtuous citizens” is infused with a Christian and conservati­ve ideology after a three-day training session in Broward County last week.

Teachers who spoke to the

Herald/ Times said they don’t object to the state’s new standards for civics, but they do take issue with how the state wants them to be taught.

“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.”

The civics training, which is part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Civics Literacy Excellence Initiative, underscore­s the tension that has been building around education and how classrooms have become battlegrou­nds for politicall­y contentiou­s issues. In Florida, DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislatur­e

have pushed policies that limit what schools can teach about race, gender identity and certain aspects of history.

Those dynamics came into full view recently when trainers told Broward teachers the nation’s founders did not desire a strict separation of state and church, down

played the role the colonies and later the United States had in the history of slavery in America, and pushed a judicial theory, favored by legal conservati­ves like DeSantis, that requires people to interpret the Constituti­on as the framers intended it, not as a living, evolving document, according to three educators who attended the training.

“It is disturbing, really, that through these workshops and through legislatio­n, there is this attempt to both censor and to drive or propagandi­ze particular points of view,” said Richard Judd, 50, a Nova High School social studies teacher with 22 years of experience who attended the state-led training session last week.

A review of more than 200 pages of the state’s presentati­ons shows the founding fathers’ intent and the “misconcept­ions” about their thinking were a main theme of the training. One slide underscore­d that the “Founders expected religion to be promoted because they believed it to be essential to civic virtue.” Without virtue, another slide noted, citizens become “licentious” and become subject to tyranny.

Another slide highlights three U.S. Supreme Court cases to show when the “Founders’ original intent began to change.” That included the 1962 landmark case that found school-sponsored prayer violated the establishm­ent clause of the First Amendment, which Judd said trainers viewed as unjust. At one point, the trainers equated it to the 1892 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the constituti­onality of racial segregatio­n under the “separate but equal” doctrine.

“Ending school prayer was compared to upholding segregatio­n,” Judd said. In other words, he said, trainers called both those rulings unjust.

On slavery, the state said that two-thirds of the founding fathers were slave owners but emphasized that “even those that held slaves did not defend the institutio­n.”

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