Florida Board of Education approves new curriculum touting 'American exceptionalism'

During an at-times heated meeting on Wednesday, the State Board of Education adopted new curriculum standards for civics, government and Holocaust education, along with updates to other subject areas.

The revised civic education standards will, in part, require public school students to “study primary source documents to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic and the root cause of American exceptionalism.”

In an outline of the standards on its website, the state Department of Education said the guidelines for instruction will prioritize teaching students “a sense of civic pride” and how to “participate regularly in all levels of government.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared at the board’s Wednesday meeting to tout the updated standards.

“Whatever pathway you choose, you have to be able to discharge the duties of being a citizen. So this civics education is universally applicable, regardless of what field you go into, regardless of what you do in your life once you leave Florida’s education system,” DeSantis told the board and a sizable crowd gathered at the St. Petersburg College Seminole campus in Pinellas County.

DeSantis also threw his support being the new Holocaust education standards.

“We want to make sure our students understand the evils of the Holocaust. You see people throughout the world try to diminish or even reject that the Holocaust even happened,” the governor said Wednesday.

The board also approved alternate standards in math and English-language arts for students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities,” as well as minor “technical” revisions to English-language arts instruction.

As a new addition to curriculum for Florida students, the board also signed off on character education and substance use and abuse instruction. Florida First Lady Casey DeSantis, who has made mental-health initiatives a priority, was on hand to endorse the addition to public school instruction.

“These are foundational skills that really pave the way not only to help craft good citizens in society, but these skills lay the groundwork to empower our students to navigate through life’s hardships,” she said, adding that threats to emotional well-being go “hand-in-hand” with substance abuse.

More than 20 people spoke during a public comment period about the proposed standards, voicing a mix of support and criticism of the changes.

Stephanie Meyer, a social studies teacher at a private school in Pinellas County, commended the board for considering the new standards.

“The revised civics standards are evidence-based, historically factual and will teach our children our shared American values. Our children are victors, not victims. Their best interests should always come before the political agendas of those who seek to undermine this great nation,” Meyer said.

Marina Welch, who said she represented the organization Women’s March Florida, contended that the standards are part of recent actions by the state to remove critical race theory from the classroom. Critical race theory is based on the premise that racism is embedded within American society and institutions.

“The exclusion of civics courses including CRT (critical race theory) will, by definition, limit information. Our state’s most precious asset, our children, should be educated to arrive at and make informed decisions,” Welch argued.

DeSantis last month backed a vote by the state education board to place strict guidelines on the way history is taught in public schools, and has been a vocal proponent of blocking critical race theory from all levels of education.

With the next academic year set to begin in a matter of weeks, many in the Pinellas County crowd were riled by what wasn’t up for discussion on Wednesday.

“We've had a lot of comment cards regarding masks, vaccinations, and CRT. We do not have those items on the agenda today, therefore we will not be speaking on them," board chairman Andy Tuck said at the beginning of the meeting.

Tuck’s comments were met with resounding boos from the crowd, and several audience members were cut off from speaking when they went “off topic” while speaking on agenda items.

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