Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis’ education agenda is a mix of good and rubbish
Ron DeSantis. Image via Facebook.

Gov. DeSantis now wants to focus on local School Board races.

Republicans dominate the Legislature in Florida and many other states because they long ago figured out something that eluded Democrats.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and GOP state lawmakers affect citizens’ rights in Florida far more than President Joe Biden or what’s-his-name from Mar-a-Lago. I suspect many left- or even center-leaning voters can’t even name their state Senator or Representative, let alone know what they’re doing in Tallahassee and why it matters.

Republicans made their voters care about those things. Democrats have not been as successful.

That brings us to the latest populist move by the Guv to create a dragon so he can slay it. I refer to the DeSantis Education Agenda.

On the surface, it sounds like Hizzoner will bang erasers upside the heads of snooty, woke intellectual teacher snobs to ensure the forces of darkness don’t indoctrinate the state’s little darlings.

But, let’s explore this a little deeper, shall we?

A key to the agenda is DeSantis’s vow to “put students first” and “protect parents’ rights” on the education frontlines.

Who could argue with that?

I know a lot of teachers and more than a little bit about that subject. My eldest son and his wife are teachers, and my wife worked in the front office of a local high school until her retirement. I can tell you this: Along with thousands of fellow teachers, they would welcome parental involvement.

They beg for that.

Too often, though, it doesn’t happen. Or when it does happen, it often results in parents screaming invectives at overstressed instructors.

Too many parents don’t show up for teacher conferences. Their kids come to class without completed homework or the motivation to learn. Too many kids are more interested in texting on their phones than in finishing their assignments.

If the parents’ little darlings flunk — which is hard to do in Florida — they’ll blame the teacher.

How about protecting teachers’ rights?

But no. That would make too much sense.

Instead, DeSantis has a 10-point plan that combines common sense and political bluster. It’s too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

Remember, though, what I said about the effect state lawmakers have on the lives of everyday Floridians? DeSantis now wants to bore down deep into local School Board races. His agenda is a litmus test he wants to apply to anyone running for those Boards.

The Governor’s plan stresses robust civics education, which is good even though it’s already taught. He doesn’t get extra credit for demanding schools do something they already do.

He wants to increase teacher pay and continue support for school security and mental health initiatives. Excellent ideas. DeSantis also wants to expand workforce development and technical education, which are fabulous goals. Go for it, Guv.

But he couldn’t resist taking swings at the piñata known as public education.

He demands that candidates reject the use of critical race theory in Florida’s classrooms, which should be easy since SCHOOLS DON’T TEACH IT!!!!!!!!!!

The Governor’s agenda says schools should “educate, not indoctrinate” and “keep woke gender ideology out of schools.”

That, too, should be easy. With all the demands from the state about what students must learn, there’s no time left to indoctrinate.

But, for the moment, let’s play along.

Let’s say the subject of the Jan. 6 insurrection comes up. There are not two sides to that story. The attackers were criminals bent on mayhem and teaching that is not indoctrination.

Teaching students to use their brains for something other than Instagram is not indoctrination.

You can argue that it’s civics.

Teacher: “Yes, students, it’s not legal to break the windows of the U.S. Capitol and try to hang the Vice President because your favored candidate lost the election.”

Student: “But Fox News said the radical left fixed machines to change the votes from the MAGA man to the illegally elected Biden.”

Teacher: “Fox News is wrong.”

However, I don’t doubt the current GOP ideal would be for the teacher to answer instead, “Well, Johnny, that’s an interesting point of view (debunked eight trillion times). Thank you for sharing.”

Yes, Republicans did their homework and figured out where they could have the most influence. All politics is local, and it doesn’t get more local than the neighborhood school.

You knew it had to happen eventually.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • ScienceBLVR

    June 20, 2022 at 7:53 pm

    Gosh, Joe.I just made many of the same points in a post on Nunez’s new DeSantis directive to influence school board elections over issues that don’t exist. Thanks for so eloquently stating what so many of colleagues feel in the public ed arena. It’s almost like a war, and we are definitely outgunned.

  • Tom

    June 20, 2022 at 8:05 pm

    Joe, Gov Ron opened the schools and saved education, parents jobs and life in Florida.

    FEA sued America’s Gov. they lost,
    Also Joe, parents know that Gov Ron saved youth suicide. It’s been rampant per Covid.

    Gov Ron will sweep new school board members in with his landslide. Educators have received 2 raises and bonuses.

    America’s Gov the best!

  • PeterH

    June 20, 2022 at 8:43 pm

    The failing Florida education system has been in the making for the past 20 years of horrible State leadership. This is an excellent article. We’ve been following the Florida education mess in the south Florida newspapers.

    33 of Floridians live below the poverty level.
    25% of Florida residents survive on Medicaid….. only 12% of that 25% are senior retirees.
    25% of Florida’s third graders CAN NOT READ.
    Currently Florida’s schools are short 6000 educators and 2000 staff.

    Your tax money is hard at work focused squarely on DeSantis’s CULTURE WAR. DeSantis may be really really smart but his policies are directed to please Florida’s minority Trumpsters. Such a waste.

    • Tom

      June 21, 2022 at 8:13 am

      So you claim that it’s 20 years, but all his fault in less than 4. Your falsehoods are legendary, extreme and highly partisan.

      The expansion and redirection of the public school voucher program for poor and minorities is the best in country. Freeing kids and allowing parents to send kids out of bad public schools into voucher program schools saves children. This was also expanded for parents in median capped bout $100,000 , offering more middle class opportunity. This frees and opens kids opportunity for better education and opportunity.

      Gov Ron opened schools and was sued by corrupt FEA, at direction of corrupt hack union hack weingarten.
      He won, and Florida parents kids prospered. He saved lives, jobs and kids suicides.

      Public Education has to be changed bottom up like vouchers offer. He and legislature, raised educators pay twice with bonus.

      How about educating, and teaching.
      DeSantis is very good for education.

  • Tom

    June 21, 2022 at 8:27 am

    You are demented H.
    Florida is the bright sunshine in America!
    Florida was saved by Gov Ron, he saved kids from suicides. He opened schools and wax sued. Parents went to work as their kids went to school. He and legislature raised educators pay twice with bonuses.
    He and legislature have addressed reading comprehension.

    Your first three stats have nothing to do with schools. School Reading is a country wide challenge.

    As usual you conflate, mis inform and mislead as usual. America’s Gov had been addressing education and we are seeing results.

    You are a liar peter h.

    • Tom

      June 21, 2022 at 8:45 am

      Furthermore, the model public school voucher program is Florida’s. This is the fundamental way of freeing poor and minority kids from underperforming schools. This program has been expanded and capped to median income of $100,000. It’s a transformation for poor and middle class kids, parents.
      Gov Ron on the side of the peeps!

  • Can't Read a Thing

    June 21, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    “He demands that candidates reject the use of critical race theory in Florida’s classrooms, which should be easy since SCHOOLS DON’T TEACH IT!!!!!!!!!!”
    The juvenile typographical games aside (PS, how the hell did you ever get away with this stuff at the Trib?), the truth is they do teach it under other names, and they promote it through tried and true channels. The difference between today and yesterday is that yesterday they were proud to talk about it in front of symposia and in grant applications to the US Department of Education while today they are shamefaced and turn off the microphones when citizens come before the meetings of school boards to bitch them out. The CRT thing is the great “gotcha” in the history of America’s culture pendulum, and the gong is swinging back the other way. I understand why teachers are upset. Snickering with a bunch of middle schoolers about perverted sex is easy. Everybody is on the same level and the teacher gets to play “pal.” Trying to teach math or objective history is hard. A lot of the kids in their seats already know more about it than the teachers do.

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