Marvin Dunn: Florida Prof Defies New Laws to "Teach the Truth"Historians in the News
tags: racism, Florida, teaching history, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis
he inscriptions on many of the tombstones at the Pleasant Plain Cemetery tucked in the north Florida woods are so worn by time and weather that they are unreadable.
But Marvin Dunn knows their stories.
On a recent afternoon, he gathered students and their parents at the cemetery and told them about the Rev. Josh J. Baskin and five other Black Floridians hanged by a White mob from an oak tree in 1916 after an accusation over a stolen hog sparked two days of terror.
The painful chapter in Florida’s history known as the Newberry Six lynchings is one the university professor has taken pains to help document over decades of research. It’s also one that he fears will be removed from Florida history lessons under a new education law championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as part of a broader push to root out ideas he deems “woke.”
The law requires lessons on race to be taught in “an objective manner,” and not “used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” It also says students should not be made to “feel guilt” because of actions committed by others in the past. DeSantis and other proponents of the law, which went into effect last summer, contend some teachers have inserted political beliefs into lessons related to race.
The language in the legislation dubbed the Stop Woke Act is sufficiently vague that educators and civil rights leaders worry it is having a chilling effect. The new law doesn’t prohibit teaching events like the Newberry lynchings, but teachers in several parts of the state said they fear it will compel them to water down or gloss over uncomfortable truths about Florida’s past.
“I can’t tell the story of the Newberry Six without expressing my disgust for the lynching of a pregnant woman,” said Dunn, 82, a professor emeritus at Florida International University. “As a teacher who has spent 30 years going from place to place in Florida where the most atrocious things have happened, I don’t know how to do that. And I don’t want the state telling me that I must.”
Nationwide, education has emerged as a political battleground between Republican lawmakers and other conservatives who equate many lessons on race, gender and identity with liberal indoctrination and Democratic leaders, teachers and others who contend omitting them is tantamount to whitewashing history and hiding difficult truths from students.
Dozens of states have enacted or considered laws banning or restricting critical race theory in the classroom, but Florida has gone a step further than most. DeSantis has not just moved legislation but also has used his education department to target academic programs and initiatives embraced elsewhere and appointed like-minded officials to state and local boards.
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