Florida’s new teacher training program promotes far-right Christian nationalism

Florida’s new teacher training program promotes far-right Christian nationalism

July 2, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

DeSantis didn’t stumble into the tenets of fascism, as Trump did. DeSantis saw the base appeal of Trump’s fascist slide and emulated it for his own benefit, from the promotion of conspiracy hoaxes down to Trump’s own mannerisms. He’s the man anti-democratic conservative fascists will embrace as Trump’s successor. Nobody else in the race will top him in raw sleaze. Nobody else in the race will promise to attack conservatism’s enemies, from nonwhites to “globalists” to educators to government’s paid stable of People Who Actually Know Things, as viciously and as all-encompassingly as he will.

If you want a sneak peak at what American fascism will look like, Florida has you covered. A new (but paywalled) Miami Herald article reports on a new three-day “training” program indoctrinating the state’s teachers on how the state’s new Republican-backed history lessons should be taught, and the “training” program is in fact a three-day course on Christian nationalist thinking. Some of the highlights were marked in a thread by Jeffrey Sachs.

The new standards emphasize Christianity as the lens through which all of American history must be taught, and does not hide its interpretation of when things began to go wrong.

The Herald has many quotes from teachers who were alarmed about these Florida Department of Education-sponsored workshops, calling it a “very strong Christian fundamentalist” approach to “censor” and “propagandize.” It is “straight-up indoctrination,” said one teacher. That’s still probably underselling the raw bias of the endeavor.

In slides, slavery was called an “Ancient practice expanded by the Europeans” while claiming that “even those [founding fathers] that held slaves did not defend the institution.” Assertions that the Founders “desired strict separation of church and state” was labeled a “Misconception.” Students are to be taught that the founders “expected religion to be promoted because they believed it to be essential to civic virtue.” A Supreme Court decision barring school-sponsored prayer was, an interviewed teacher reported, compared by trainers to the injustice of upholding segregation.

And “Originalism,” represented alongside a picture of the notoriously fickle former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia because Jeebus, nobody involved even knows the meaning of the word subtle, is identified as the only means of “interpreting” the Constitution. (Originalism’s habit of ignoring what the founders themselves wrote to instead focus on what an English dude from a century earlier might have thought about it is not mentioned.)

As for how this all came about, the Herald can answer that too. The workshops are part of a $6 million DeSantis effort to retrain the state’s teachers according to Republicanism’s standards, and run by the Florida Department of Education. Teachers get $700 for attending the “voluntary” three-day trainings, and teachers who can abide what must be an absolute hellscape of a 60-hour online course can receive a $3,000 bonus pulled out of the DeSantis administration’s unspent pandemic safety funds.

The lesson plan itself was created by Republican-allied Hillsdale College, the Koch brothers’ archconservative Bill of Rights Institute, and other groups. It is a Christian nationalist plan that scrapes out the unpleasant parts of history to insert a new fan-fiction version that cites Christianity as the reason for all the good things that are left and promotes, as you can see, the distinctly ideological notion that Christianity must be the lens through which future government is applied.

As an aside, 60 hours of indoctrination on the value of originalism and how Actually, slavery was nowhere near as bad as people are saying sounds less like a training session and more like an extended cult ritual. Teachers are also among the worst-paid professionals in America, so paying them an extra $3,000 only if they’re willing to relearn history the “Republican” way almost qualifies as blackmail.

We can probably feel safe calling the ever-dodgy Hillsdale College a Christian nationalist hub at this point, but it’s a go-to source of conservative crackpot-ism, so you’ll be hearing more about it as the Samuel Alito and Ron DeSantis version of post-Trumpism scrubs out what’s left of the rest of conservatism. On the other hand, anything associated with the Koch brothers is always and forever devoted to eroding government so that Charles Koch doesn’t have to pay as much in taxes as he once did, and if teaching children that Antonin F–king Scalia is the source of our rights and general goodness is what it takes to do so then that is what’s going to happen.

This isn’t happening in a vacuum. These new programs for Florida teachers come as those teachers are ordered to strip classrooms of anything that so much as hints at the existence of non-heterosexuality, including removing photographs of partners and scraping Safe Space stickers from their doors.

And if you still think it’s not fascism yet, you might reconsider after hearing how new school guidelines demand school officials report any student who, quote, “is open about their gender identity.” When rules start being passed that will be ignored in every case except when a targeted minority has allegedly broken them, you are well and truly in the midst of the fascist witch hunts.

The Supreme Court has weakened gun laws in direct response to a rising far-right militia movement that predicates gun ownership on an alleged “right” to sedition and vigilantism. It has declared that the state’s interest in a fetus outstrips the civil rights of those who carry them. It has issued a shockingly dishonest-on-the-facts ruling to erase student protections against religious intimidation by school authority figures. It has declared that the entirety of the administrative state now only exists if it comports with the will of six conservatives specifically chosen for their willingness to promote movement priorities. It most recently now has signaled a willingness to abide a theory that supposes the sanctity of voting itself is a modern fiction, with elections being something partisan-captured legislatures can simply overrule when it suits them.

But it is DeSantis who is angling to be the Dear Leader figure who will guide the “reeducation” of America, the scribbling out of history so as to better comport with nationalist ends, the formalization of power as a partisan exercise that shifts according to need, the new figure who will stamp out expertise in favor of advantageous fiction. Trump is Trump, a buffoon who never cared about the mechanisms of governing because they bored him. DeSantis has proven willing and able to turn Trump’s campaign of personal vendettas into a truly state-enforced, state-financed affair. And his enemies are fascism’s usual enemies: immigrants, LGBT citizens, intellectuals, public functionaries, and too-irritating truths.

It’s Florida’s youngest generations that are least willing to abide those sorts of bigotries and willful ignorance, so Republican movement leaders are focusing a great deal of attention on “re-educating” them until they do. It’s your children who are going to be caught in the middle of this.