Tag Archives: politicizing education

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Darkness in the Sunshine State

Florida has a problem of preemptive censorship.

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“Students can no longer take sociology to fulfill their core course requirements,    Florida’s state university system ruled on Wednesday.” 

-New York Times, January 28, 2024

At first, I thought I misread the opening sentence of this news article, but unfortunately not. Can the leaders of an American state really be so shortsighted to ban an entire branch of the social sciences? It seems inconceivable that the vast discipline developed from the ideas of intellectual giants like Herbert Spencer, Karl Marx, Karl Mannheim, George Herbert Mead, and Charles Cooley could be taken out of a core curriculum in a modern university. Yet again, Florida has acted preemptively to muzzle ideas that are deemed too dangerous for students.

At its core, Sociology is the study of people in groups. No one can credibly declare its irrelevance. And the irony here is obvious; Florida’s sad-sack governor is a good example of someone who might have received help from the study of how we connect with others. Even with his limited horizons, the simple-minded charge that the whole of sociology is “woke” is hopelessly shallow and misplaced.

For good reasons, most Americans take offense to the politicization of education. Ideas about human groups fire the imagination and renew the culture. The banning of an introductory course in sociology is especially pitiful because its key ideas are foundational for a number of fields. My own discipline of Communication Studies has shamelessly borrowed some of its best ideas from the fertile minds of 19th Century sociologists. Many of us are still evangelists for the imaginative work of Irving Goffman, Hugh Dalziel Duncan, Todd Gitlin, David Reisman, and others. The window of sociology lets us see how—not if—we are the products of our affiliations, through family, marriage, and the myriad groups and organizations that shape our world. Scores of professional applications are in debt to the sociological perspective, among them: social work, ministerial training, urban planning, social services, prisons and policing, education, and the training of mental health professionals.

Sociology is the study of people in groups. No one can credibly declare its irrelevance. 

Losing the option of an Introduction to Sociology course deprives students of an eye-opening glimpse of its intriguing interconnections. And first courses are often key in helping new students decide on their majors. Given this tight weave of related subjects, I hope that higher education agencies will rethink accrediting schools who have removed sociology from the core curriculum.

                         New College Protests

Florida clearly has a problem with preemptive censorship. We already know that climate change curricula are mostly off the table in the grade school curriculum, as are fair-minded and contemporary approaches to gender, identity, and sex. Books are being locked down for promoting “unhealthy” choices. An original and modest AP course in African American Studies for high schoolers was axed as inappropriate. And diversity, equity and inclusion programs have been banned in state universities. In addition, there was also a very public decapitation of a state liberal arts institution in Sarasota. The Governor and his people controlling the University system thought that New College was “too liberal,” setting off terminations, resignations, and a wave of uncertainty for its students.

At this rate Donald Duck will soon have to be fully clothed if he shows up in the Magic Kingdom. Geologists at the Kennedy Space Center will have to pretend that the solar system is just six thousand years old. And we can imagine a false need to stow away official art considered too degenerate for public display.

Florida is not alone in attempts to purge universities of their academic independence. But it has a penchant for censorship that keeps compounding. Coastal states like Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have begun units on climate change in the schools. By contrast, Florida allows the use of classroom videos dismissing climate concerns. Somehow the state’s public utilities will have to prevaricate even faster to keep up the official delusion that water in the streets of Dade County is coming from broken pipes. Whatever political leaders in Tallahassee may wish, most homes in Florida are eventually going to have more of an ocean view than they bargained for.

Not being prepared to live in this world has consequences. Florida and its students are paying the price for a government that is not prepared to deal with the complex world around them. Parents may need to take a second look at whether they want to have their children left in the dark on issues vital to their interests.

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Disturbing Roadblocks to Educational Freedom

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Fighting back against our modern thought-police

A year ago it was apparent that the headwinds against progressive schooling were getting stronger. This post written at the time reflects that problem.  Since then, a group of mostly of states have sought to legislatively impose all sorts of restrictions on teachers, professors, librarians and school boards.  As I noted then, we could reach a point where scholars and teachers may need to pass over job offers because of draconian state laws. Reduced academic freedoms and free expression are central to the academic workplace.

In particular, Florida, Alabama and Texas have passed legislation that would prohibit academics from teaching about the social and political histories of the nation. Many would also not allow discussions or facilities provided for trans students.

We do not yet know how many of these hate laws will withstand court scrutiny.  But the very thought should send shudders down the spines of those familiar with the attempts of German Fascists to purify their society of “decadent” art and “alien” ideas. Most of the homegrown pinheads proposing this censorship may have never learned that the United States and the West did the world a favor by sheltering a important German academics fleeing to safety from authoritarians.  Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik and Herbert Marcuse are only a few intellectuals that found their way to the United States. They fled the Nazi’s thought police who found their teaching and religious beliefs alien to the culture. All focused their scholarship on culture and society, making advances in American explorations of philosophy, psychology, sociology and cultural analysis.  Indeed, Adorno and Frenkel-Brunswik’s explorations of “The Authoritarian Personality” remains relevant in this era of populist-fascist dictatorships. What they described as theory we now understand as fact.

The “problem” that social conservatives think they are addressing includes ostensibly “dangerous” leftist ideas, and the teaching of what most misunderstand as “critical race theory:” a phrase that triggers fantasies that chain out past what are useful historical and theoretical probes. The goal is to prohibit teachers in history and the social sciences from confronting the fact of American racism first institutionalized with slavery and then embedded in nearly every corner of our national life. Tina Descovich, of “Moms for Liberty” sets out very narrow guardrails: “To say there were slaves is one thing, but to talk in detail about how slaves were treated, with photos, is another.”


No one alert to the challenges facing modern nations can ignore the enormous effect that racial and religious bigotry has had on its victims. The most advanced societies have made amends. But we are still easily upside down if the classroom is subjected to gag rules imposed by non-expert and misinformed politicians. Legislating away American attempts at necessary reckonings with the past is truly a fool’s errand.  And ghosting services for gay and trans citizens is its own nightmare.  Legislators would do well to acquaint themselves with Nazi programs in the 1930s and 40s to purge public spaces of supposedly “degenerate art,” including pieces by Picasso, Henry Moore and Jewish painters.  Some of their work was officially hidden away, even though societies need the revitalization of those who may seem to be on the fringes.

The best educational communities do not impose curricular guidelines that would muzzle the insights of authentic scholarship. If it were possible to do so, such limits would empty out academia of its best and brightest in the fields of media theory, American history, modern criticism, American literature, philosophy, sociology, ethnic and religious studies. It’s one thing for a church or private organization to impose a-priori “doctrines,” that allow only narrow pathways for exploration. It’s quite another for non-expert legislatures or school boards to set rules that would restrict the free discovery of ideas that is the very reason for a university. We could reach a point where professional bodies representing various disciplines may need to issue warnings to teachers and scholars to reject job offers in states that have decided to turn their backs on the hard truths of the American experiment.

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