June 10, 2021: Florida Board of Education passes a gag rule to prevent teachers from “indoctrinating children” about disturbing topics such as how racism has shaped American institutions and history.

“The rule is clear in telling teachers what they can teach and what they cannot teach.” Ben Gibson, Florida State Board of Education member.

The rule passes as amended to specify exactly the history Florida teachers are to teach. The indoctrination insult passes with it as a corollary, but no one wanted to address that.

The last board member to speak, Monesia Brown, channeled her best Betsy Devos as she talked about the need for professional development to help teachers understand what they are to teach and what they are not.

In previous posts, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has discussed the politics behind the rule, The Weeping Angels, and whether the facts of Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era, and the contributions of non-white people will actually be allowed under the rule given its ban of specifically identified interpretations of that history, Strange Fruit.

But the new rule is more insidious than that. It includes this language, “Efficient and faithful teaching further means that any discussion is appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students, and teachers serve as facilitators for student discussion and do not share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view that is inconsistent with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and the Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards.” [Emphasis from GOT.]

The rule is quite clear that teachers may present facts as was the discussion surrounding the adoption of the rule, with its specific ban on teaching from the 1619 project and Critical Race Theory that is further specified as meaning that racism is limited to individual prejudice, racism may not be discussed as inherent in societal systems, and should not ever, ever, ever be intimated that there’s such a thing as white supremacy. Don’t take GOT’s word for it; read the rule as amended for yourself.

Let’s get real. Let’s get down and dirty about what really takes place in a classroom.

Teachers who bring up controversial topics for discussion are subject to parent complaints when their children get home and report on their day. It’s not what the teacher said or didn’t say; it’s not what the teacher did or didn’t do. It’s that some parents object to the topic appearing in the classroom at all.

And they complain–loudly.

As a rule, given their institutional nature, school systems react to criticism by wishing it hadn’t happened. Ambitious admins don’t want trouble; they want their higher-ups to think they have their school well-managed and under control.

They do! But that doesn’t mean that controversy will not surround them unexpectedly.

This is when the true impact of the new rule will come. Silence will fall.

Take a look at the big picture. Since 2011, ten years ago, no teacher in Florida is able to be hired except under an annual contract. That means that they must receive a renewal or new contract every year to keep their job. Teachers who change districts must go onto annual contracts. They cannot transfer the job rights they have under an existing professional services contract to the new district.

A principal, acting on their own or under district pressure, needs not to give a teacher an excuse for non-renewal. As the school year ends, all they have to say to the unfortunate teacher is that they are not renewing the contract.

The teacher is fired. Finis, turn out the lights, let the door hit you in the <ahem>, it’s over. No reason need be mentioned.

In the whispers that mark those brief in-the-hallway meetings, teachers exchange the advice that the best course of action is to ‘fly under the radar.’ Or even better, stay off the radar completely.

Don’t believe for a moment that the governor, commissioner, or the state board members are unaware of this. They publish rules whose words seem to give permission for teachers to present the entire history. But in truth, they know that won’t happen.

How many teachers will or, more realistically, can afford to buck the system? GOT is lucky to be close enough to retirement not to have to worry. But for too many, the sound of silence will be heard in their classrooms.

“Hello darkness, my old friend … people writing songs that voices never share and no one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

The original. No disrespect, Paul & Art, but I like Disturbed’s cover better.

One thought on “The Sound of Silence

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