Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns blasts Florida higher education bill banning DEI, certain curricula
Ken Burns, photographer: Cable Risdon

Ken Burns, photographer: Cable Risdon
'By trying to dictate what teachers can and cannot teach, Florida House Bill 999 is an assault on the very liberties articulated by the Founders.'

Florida once again finds itself in the spotlight over controversial legislation, this time targeting higher education.

Filmmaker Ken Burns, known for his documentaries chronicling American history and culture, is weighing in on Florida bill (HB 999) that would ban funding for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at state colleges, give boards of trustees more power on hiring and firing, ban critical race theory and remove gender studies classes from curricula.

“America’s greatness stems not from its suppression of our complicated history but our willingness to engage and understand it,” Burns tweeted.

“Each generation has helped further bring to life the values articulated in the Declaration and made more perfect in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Our contribution should not be to silence those trying to understand the past more fully. By trying to dictate what teachers can and cannot teach, Florida House Bill 999 is an assault on the very liberties articulated by the Founders and something that all Americans should speak out against.”

By early Tuesday morning, Burns’ tweet had been shared 321 times, quote tweeted 16 times and liked 1,400 times. Some 77,000 people had viewed it.

The bill, filed by Republican Rep. Alex Andrade in late February, furthers Gov. Ron DeSantis’ higher education priorities, including calls to ban DEI, critical race theory “and other discriminatory programs and barriers to learning.”

“In Florida, we will build off of our higher education reforms by aligning core curriculum to the values of liberty and the Western tradition, eliminating politicized bureaucracies like DEI, increasing the amount of research dollars for programs that will feed key industries with talented Florida students and empowering presidents and boards of trustees to recruit and hire new faculty,” DeSantis said in a Jan. 31 statement. 

The bill drew swift condemnation from a number of higher education groups, including the American Association of University Presidents, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Coalition Against Censorship, that all collectively said the measure would “destroy higher education as we know it.”

“Florida’s HB 999 would destroy academic freedom, tenure, shared governance and university independence in the state’s public higher education system,” the organizations’ statement said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “Simply put, it would make Florida’s colleges and universities into an arm of the DeSantis political operation.”

Forbes Senior Contributor Michael T. Nietzel, a former university President who writes about higher education, described the bill as a “full-on attempt to make Florida higher education serve the right-wing agenda” DeSantis is “trying to implement for the state’s public universities and colleges.”

And some professors have expressed concern that the bill would create “state-mandated censorship” and erode academic freedom, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a leading national college campus advocacy group, wrote that the latest higher education legislation is “a dangerous expansion of the unconstitutional ’Stop WOKE Act,’” which prohibited education in schools and workplaces that, essentially, teaches race relations or diversity in a way that implies a person or group is inherently racist.

A federal judge blocked parts of the law from being enforced, calling it “positively dystopian.” 

The latest bill, FIRE wrote, “is laden with unconstitutional provisions hostile to freedom of expression and academic freedom,” according to the group.

The group’s analysis points out the bill does not define critical race theory, meaning “faculty teaching courses on history, philosophy, humanities, literature, sociology or art would be required to guess what material administrators, political appointees or lawmakers might label ‘identity politics’ — no matter how pedagogically relevant the material is to the course.”

By adding his name to the chorus of discontent, Burns is further elevating Florida Republicans’ efforts to reform higher education on a national stage.

Burns has been making documentaries for more than 40 years. He’s the brains behind numerous documentaries covering a wide range of historical events, figures or periods including the Holocaust, the Central Park Five, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Gettysburg and more. His frequent use of a film technique that pans and zooms still imagery was named the Ken Burns effect. 

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella. Follow Peter on Twitter @PeterSchorschFL.


  • Richard Bruce

    March 7, 2023 at 9:46 am

    The rich Mr. Burns is free to use his own money to pay for DEI at colleges. Anyone else who thinks DEI is important is free to pay for it.

    • Rob Desantos

      March 7, 2023 at 10:59 am

      No, they’re not, that’s the point. Florida GOP is attempting to literally ban these concepts from their institutions of “higher learning.” There is no defending their outright suppression of free speech.

      • Paul Passarelli

        March 7, 2023 at 11:22 am

        Untrue. You are the volunteer from the audience brought up to ‘have a closer look’ and are literally being pointed by the magician to look at the scantily clad girl, which is where he wants your gaze directed, while his other assistant walks the elephant onto the stage, causing the audience to laugh uproariously.

        What is being ‘restricted’ (I’ll concede that it is a restriction) is the programs that are *INDOCTRINATING* naive (aka ‘ignorant’) students with a political agenda that is short on facts and long on propaganda.

        I’m sorry you can’t tell the difference.

        • Beckett FK

          March 9, 2023 at 7:43 am

          They are all over the age of 18 paying college tuition and have a choice in their classes. There is no indoctrination its all consensual.

          • Paul Passarelli

            March 9, 2023 at 10:40 am

            LOL! While I agree with you *in principle* the reality is that college students really don’t have the choices you imagine. The schools mandate a large part of the undergraduate’s schedule which always contains the *useless* classes in the humanities & social ‘sciences’.

            So while the ‘theory’ is that thoise classes will make more well rounded graduates, the reality is that the schools use them to heavily pad their bottom line. The tuition coming from the guaranteed student loans that are almost impossible to escape using.

            Also, it’s not like the incoming freshmen have been anything other than indoctrinated to accept the crappy propaganda as gospel. I suppose you believe the livestock on their way to the slaughter house are also participating in a consensual agreement too. Amiright?

  • Paul Passarelli

    March 7, 2023 at 10:05 am

    There is a vast difference between ‘teaching the lessons of history’ which is what Ken Burns seems to be saying in his three part tweet, and what the people criticizing the bills are shouting to create distrust.

    The history is a collection of *facts* the happenings of the past are for better or worse immutable. Going forward we can learn from the mistakes & the successes, but we cannot remedy the mistakes by forgetting the accompanying successes, or undo the mistakes by making new & different mistakes in the future. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

    If two people are swimming in the ocean, and one begins to fail, there are essentially four possible outcomes:
    1) The weaker swimmer could drag the stronger swimmer to their mutual deaths.
    2) The stronger swimmer could survive and the weaker swimmer would drown if he abandons the weaker swimmer.
    3) The stronger swimmer could save both himself and the weaker swimmer if the weaker swimmer *trusts* the stronger swimmer.
    4) The weaker swimmer could calm down, recall his basic swim training and allow the stronger swimmer to go ahead.

    I had a hard time ordering the last two outcomes. The 1st outcome is obvious resulting in two drownings. It’s important to understand how the 2nd outcome is a likely one, after the weak swimmer grabs the strong swimmer and the stronger one manages to escape the deadly grasp.
    The 3rd outcome is actually what we’re trained to do in the Red Cross Lifesaving/WSI certification program. It might mean rendering the weaker swimmer unconscious, and using a ‘control tow’ to rescue them.
    The 4th outcome requires the weak swimmer to acknowledge that he does not possess the same advantages as the strong swimmer. That makes the analogy fall short in the ‘socially desirable’ characteristics the SJW’s demand.

  • Matthew Lusk

    March 7, 2023 at 11:10 am

    All education should ideally be funded by private sources. Stop the WOKE perverts.

  • Barry J Smith

    March 7, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    I’m an independent voter from a Midwestern State. If DeSantis thinks this is his path to the White House, he is sadly mistaken. We don’t support or vote for extremism. His dictatorial style won’t fly outside of Florida or Texas.

    • Paul Passarelli

      March 7, 2023 at 4:42 pm

      You’re a Fake Alias trolling Florida Politics. No one with half an ounce on intelligence believes you.

  • Michael Porter

    March 8, 2023 at 8:50 am :

    To some, woke is now a derisive stand-in for diversity, inclusion, empathy and, yes, Blackness. So, when legislators pass a law to “stop woke” in light of the word’s true history as well as its commonly understood meaning, what are they really saying?

    “Governor DeSantis’ nefarious attack on truth, history, and public education cannot be masked by a fatuous acronym mocking a Black colloquialism,” Janai S. Nelson, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel, emphasized in a press release announcing the organization’s lawsuit challenging the Stop W.O.K.E. Act. “[This law] seeks to deprive future generations of knowledge, information, and the ability to appreciate the humanity of their fellow citizens. It is also a direct and unlawful assault on the bedrock principle of free speech in a democracy.”

    The details of the law and the story behind its passage bear out this conclusion. It was passed against the will of a broad cross-section of Florida residents and students who testified to legislators about the harm it would cause in the state and to their community’s efforts to challenge injustice. Notably, many of these initiatives were launched in the wake of the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many other Black people due to police violence.

    Under the Stop W.O.K.E. law, educators and institutions in Florida are already being restricted, or restricting themselves out of fear, from freely teaching students about many of the events and people that make up the history of this country. Indeed, even the stories of American icons like Martin Luther King Jr. are allegedly being banned from Florida K-12 classrooms under this law.

    In Harriot’s view, the manipulation of woke has been key to effecting policies that, when looked at plainly, reveal a foundational hostility to values most Americans share. This includes recognizing and honoring icons who toiled to bring our nation closer to living up to its ideals of justice and fairness, where everyone can thrive and live without fear of being targeted for who they are.

    “It’s hard to get people to demonize human beings and lives and history. But it’s easy to get them to demonize a word. And if you can use that word as a placeholder for those people, for caring about those people, then it’s easy to demonize instead of saying, ‘We’re just gonna stop caring about people,’” Harriot concludes.

    Watson agrees, “When I think of political figures like DeSantis and the rampant fight against critical race theory — you are really trying to erase history and trying to erase knowledge that we need to grow better as a people. The fact that you are trying to hide these experiences all for the comfort of your white fragility is troubling, harmful, and, most importantly, dangerous. And that’s literally everything that woke goes against.”

    • Paul Passarelli

      March 8, 2023 at 6:13 pm

      Wow! Talk about full of shit.

      I’m not going to fall for a cherry picking debate tactic, and deny that there are some aspects of ‘wokeness’ that reflect badly on a certain member of the House of Representatives that that exclaimed “Stay woke my millenials.” at a rally that probably did more damage to the surrounding venue than the January 6th “insurrection’ as the Left is wont to call it.

      But the “Stop Woke” acts that are making their way through Conservative legislatures really have nothing to do with “Blackness” as the article puts it. Stop woke is about sanity calling out insanity and saying: “Enough is enough already!”‘ Do you honestly think the pushback against the big corporations like Disney, Coca-Cola, and Hershey’s chocolate are because their products are too ___brown___?
      Well I’ve got a eye opener for you — that’s exactly the kind of insanity that the stop woke pushback is pushing back against!

  • Lloyd Riffe

    March 8, 2023 at 12:36 pm

    Phi Beta Kappa = Φιλοσοφία Βίου Κυβερνήτης
    = Philosophia Biou Kybernētēs
    = Love of learning is the guide of life
    To be evaluated a concept must be illuminated.

    • Paul Passarelli

      March 8, 2023 at 4:54 pm

      I’m good with going all the way back to the beginnings of recorded history if that’s OK with the Liberals.

      The code of Hammurabi, the bible, bhagavad gita, I ching, literally any text that has a strong moral compass, even if its outdated.

      But are the brokers on the Left really willing to educate, as opposed to indoctrinate, the masses? Knowing full well that an educated and moral people will likely banish the deviants from society completely or at least marginalize them far more than they have been marginalized in the past several centuries.

      I’ve said t before and I’ll say it again, stereotypes exist for reasons. I’m not saying they should be *taught*, but when they are learned based on actual experiences, they should not be quickly discarded because they make the target of the stereotype uncomfortable.

Comments are closed.


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