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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

'Irresponsible': Concerns over bill aiming to teach the history of communism in kindergarten

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is offering a slate of summer programs for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, across more than 100 school sites. All programs are free of charge, including free breakfast and lunch for all students.
Elmo Lugo
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Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is offering a slate of summer programs for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, across more than 100 school sites. All programs are free of charge, including free breakfast and lunch for all students.

Florida's latest education controversy involves a bill moving through the state legislature that would require public schools to teach kids about communism as early as kindergarten. Two academic experts discuss whether children and their teachers are prepared for these conversations.

If there’s one subject that touches a raw nerve in South Florida, it’s communism. Latinos are the majority population in Miami-Dade County, and a sizable cohort in Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe Counties as well.

And communism — whether it’s the Castro dictatorship in Cuba, Chavismo in Venezuela, Sandinistas in Nicaragua or Marxist guerrillas in Colombia — is considered the evil that drove so many of them into exile here.

Now, a bill moving through the state legislature wants to require Florida’s public schools to teach kids about the evils of communism as early as kindergarten. It would join other mandated subjects, such as Black history and the Holocaust.

READ MORE: Anti-Communism education could soon be mandated at all grade levels

The question, of course, is: if the state is going to include communism in that mix, should it not include evils from the other side of the spectrum, such as fascism? Another big concern: how do you teach political philosophy to kindergartners? And should we even be doing that?

“I'm frankly concerned that the impetus for this is not coming from really a genuine preoccupation about educational outcomes as much as it is a product of the culture wars that we're invested in."
Michael Bustamante, UM history and Cuban studies professor.

On the South Florida Roundup, WLRN’s Tim Padgett discussed with University of Miami history and Cuban studies professor Michael Bustamante and Andy Gomez, the former director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, whether school-aged children and their teachers are prepared for these conversations.

University of Miami history and Cuban studies professor Michael Bustamante.
University of Miami
University of Miami history and Cuban studies professor Michael Bustamante.

If passed, HB 1349 and its companion bill would require students to learn about the history of communism as early as kindergarten and set up a communism education force. According to the bills, schools would approach the history of communism in a developmentally and educationally appropriate way.

Their Republican sponsors say the motive behind them is that too many American youths today view communism in a positive light.

“I'm frankly concerned that the impetus for this is not coming from really a genuine preoccupation about educational outcomes as much as it is a product of the culture wars that we're invested in,” said Bustamante.

“I'm not going to get into the business of deciding which things are more or less important to teach. I think the trouble here is when you sort of establish a priority that it's important to teach about the history of 'x' subject. The history of global communism in this case.”

Gomez authored a children’s book about Cuba titled “Lessons from Abuelo” for his four young grandsons. In the process of writing his book, he consulted child psychologists about how best to approach communism and parts of Cuban history in a way that children would digest easily.

“Writing the book was probably one of the toughest things I've done. [I had to] bring myself down to teach [Cuban history] to young kids…I did consult psychologists and human development psychologists [to know] how I should try to explain not only the history of Cuba but the good and the bad. And let parents and grandparents give their own interpretation,” said Gomez.

 Andy Gomez (in chair) and his wife Frances with their four grandsons
Courtesy Andy Gomez
Andy Gomez (in chair) and his wife Frances with their four grandsons

The author says that while he’s always been an advocate for giving school-aged children a civic education and teaching comparative politics to high schoolers, he believes “it’s irresponsible [to] assume that we can teach kindergarten students about communism.”

He says that while he can’t sit down with his grandchild and discuss communism, he can talk about the history of Cuba. Gomez says that sitting with psychologists made it clear to him that the best way to approach these conversations with children was to provide concrete facts, stories and illustrations to simplify the content for them.

As a college professor, Bustamante says that teaching comparative political philosophy, political systems and history is incredibly challenging. He adds that as a parent, he speaks to his 4-year-old son about Cuba as a place where his grandparents are from, but would never imagine discussing political philosophy with his child.

Bustamante says that he’ll be watching out for how history is taught in schools.

"We should concentrate on ... Teaching our children about democracy and the importance of sustaining that democracy through building a strong civic society."
Andy Gomez, former director of UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

“History is full of facts, but history is also a science of how we interpret those facts. And it's not even a science,” he said. “It's a combination of science and reality and I worry when history is taught, whether it's about communism or anything else, in a way that: ‘This is the conclusion that you have to draw because…’ — that tends to push students away and make it not interesting and sort of make people think that history is just something to be memorized and facts.”

Gomez says that teachers are not prepared to teach topics as complex as communism to kindergarteners.

“We should concentrate on building a larger civic society. When you take a look at the United States [and] the small percentage of people that are voting — this is what we should try to concentrate on. Teaching our children about democracy and the importance of sustaining that democracy through building a strong civic society,” said Gomez.

You can listen to the full conversation above or wherever you get your podcasts by searching: The South Florida Roundup.

Copyright 2024 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Helen Acevedo
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