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DeSantis Excludes Critical Race Theory From Civics Curriculum; Some Teachers Aren’t Happy

Governor Ron DeSantis’s proposed civics curriculum would get a $106 million boost through the federal CARES Act.
Governor Ron DeSantis’s proposed civics curriculum would get a $106 million boost through the federal CARES Act.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed civics curriculum would exclude the critical race theory. One educator says the theory doesn’t cause hate based on race, but instead provides insight on why such hate occurs.

Civics education is on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ priority list, but at the cost of what some view as a controversial course.

DeSantis proposes spending $106 million in federal CARES Act funds to strengthen the state’s K-12 civics education curriculum, but added that critical race theory should not be included in the new program.

Under the governor's proposal, teachers who choose to train and teach the course will receive a $3,000 bonus. The training will include in-person seminars, virtual learning, and civic coaches to help guide the way.

Speaking in Palm Harbor Wednesday, DeSantis referred to the theory as an “unsanctioned narrative” and says that it “teaches kids to hate our country and to hate each other based on race.”

But educators who teach critical race theory say that’s not the case.

“The course offers students at the doctoral level, a theoretical lens to examine issues, whether they're policy issues or curricular issues, that are related to education,” says Vonzell Agosto, an associate professor in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of South Florida.

Agosto added that the class helps students examine issues at the personal level and what causes racial barriers to opportunities.

According to Agosto, there are different branches of the theory that offer a more targeted focus on particular groups.

“Critical race theory is like an umbrella for what has become multiple sort of breakout strands.”

Those strands include the tribal crypt theory, which focuses on issues pertinent to indigenous Native American communities.

But Agosto said the larger theoretical approach helps people analyze different things that are going on in the realm of education, such as policy, curriculum, admissions issues in higher ed and financial issues for students.

That approach also looks at the concept of intersectionality.

“And that's the idea that race matters, but not only race,” said Agosto. “So when you're examining something that's a policy issue, you would ask about race and racism and anti-racism, for example, but not only that, it's the intersectionality of racial oppression and oppression related to sexual orientation.”

She also has a strong response to DeSantis’ claim that the theory instills hate.

“The critical race theory doesn't necessarily get at, nor does it provoke those kinds of emotions. People may feel those emotions as they learn about the past, but that would be with any course, even the civics courses he's thinking of providing to students.”

“So in terms of emotion, emotions are not part of the tenets of critical race theory. And it's not about the idea of hate, I would say that it's more about possibility, promise, and confronting the pains of the painful pasts.”

Agosto added that critical race theory is not “an unsanctioned narrative,” but actually a counter-narrative.

“And I'm not sure who sanctions the narratives.”

Agosto also believes there is a demand for this course, especially in current times when students are trying to make sense of not just history, but of their own circumstances.

“Some people are saying we're in this time of racial reckoning in that with Black Lives Matter, it has brought racism, especially as it pertains to black people, to the forefront in response to the slayings of black men, especially by police officers.”

She also called the theory a “form of resistance” and said she would be available to those developing the civics course -- adding that critical race theory shouldn't be excluded from it.

Leali Shalabi is a WUSF/ USF Zimmerman School digital news intern for the spring of 2021.