Blogs > HNN > Florida Education

Jun 13, 2006 11:03 am

Florida Education

A recent Jonathan Zimmerman post caught my eye since it's about teaching history in my soon-to-be new home state of Florida. Zimmerman's post is quite alarming. He quotes from the new law"The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth.... American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed."

I'm still having a little bit of trouble wrapping my head around this one. Does this mean that only chronologies can be taught? Confused, I decided to look up the law and get a sense of its context. It turns out that Zimmerman's characterization of the new Florida law (.pdf) is somewhat misleading. The actual law, as signed by Jeb Bush says this –"American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence." The"revisionist or postmodernist" line was dropped before the bill reached Bush's desk.

While the Florida legislators have embarrassed themselves by demonstrating their fundamental misunderstanding of the historian's craft (as Zimmerman points out, history can't help but be constructed), historians have also been embarrassed by Zimmerman's lackadaisical interest in facts. To mention a law and then to quote material that isn't actually in the law is the sort of lazy investigation that prompts reasonable people to think historians might not be completely trustworthy.

Zimmerman, however, is correct in spirit if not in facts. Here's another confusing passage from the new education bill. Under the list of concepts that youths must be taught is this jewel of an incoherent sentence:"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 contributions of African Americans to society." Exactly what"political conflicts that led to the development of slavery" do they mean? Does our historical record even go back that far? As far as I'm aware slavery existed before our earliest known written history and continues to exist today. What political conflicts led to the development of slavery?

It's not all bad, though. It is also mandated that Florida youth be taught"kindness to animals." Don't be surprised if Peter Singer's Animal Liberation becomes required reading for high school students across the state!

(Here's the legislative history of the bill in question).

Occam's Hatchet has more over at the Daily Kos.

Catherine Dolinski has more at the Tampa Tribune.

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More Comments:

Darren Michael Peterson - 6/23/2006

I would assume that the part about the political conflicts prior to slavery is the attempt to defray guilt based upon the slaves really being prisoners sold to the white man... thus absolving some of the guily... or spreading the blame.

Yes, slavery has been around for a long, long time. Slave is from the word Slav which gives a general indication of who was being used as slaves in our history.

While it might be argued that this country was founded on the principles of the documents mentioned, this reminds me of the recent non-binding resolution in Congress... that it is a political ploy designed to "trap" those pesky libs and Democrats.

If they are against mandating, hrough law, what history is and how it should be taught... then they are anti-American.

I am months away from getting my teaching license and for the life of me... I don't know why! I guess it is like with my military service... I do it for me and for what I can do. Not for the people who can take advantage of me.

David Davisson - 6/13/2006

I got enough heartburn from reading all the vague and contradictory legalese about "history" I couldn't stomach reading the parts defining "teaching."

I would hate to be a teacher in Florida these days. I think technically almost every behavior has been criminalized by this bill.

Ms. Cornelius - 6/13/2006

So would attaching any value judgment to, say, slavery be counter to the law? Isn't teaching kindness to animals a "value?"

David Davisson - 6/13/2006

AND embarrassed by their lackadaisical attitude toward punctuation!


David Silbey - 6/13/2006

"historian's have also been embarrassed by Zimmerman's lackadaisical interest in facts"

historians (no apostrophe)