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The Struggle for Inclusive Education

Florida’s Blueprint for Ethnocide Through Public Education

The United States has a long legacy of forced acculturation. Men, women and children stolen to the U.S. routinely had their names, religion and culture stripped away during enslavement. As they struggled to hold on to their history and native customs, enslaved individuals navigated the existence of not being considered American while also playing a vital role in building this country.

Indigenous people experienced similar tribulations. Although native to these lands, they were recognized only as savages, not Americans. After centuries of massacre and the widely spread belief that “the only good Indian is a dead one,” U.S. Army Capt. Richard Pratt instead declared: “All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.”

Pratt’s notion became central to the development of Indigenous boarding schools, focused on “civilizing,” “Christianizing” and “Americanizing” Indigenous children. Involuntary assimilation – “killing the Indian” – at these institutions included the forcible dispossession of native names, languages, religions, dress and customs, while necessitating the adoption of traditional American customs.

Over two centuries later, efforts to erase the culture, history and contributions of historically marginalized people continue in public education, now in the form of whitewashed, revisionist teaching. While hiding behind false claims of protecting parental rights and saving children from indoctrination, politicians and anti-student inclusion groups, like Moms for Liberty and Parents Defending Education, seek to control what is taught in schools, including putting limitations on factual history and multicultural reading materials, while forcing diverse students to repress their identities and cultural histories.

Florida’s ethnocide through authoritarianism

When historian Carter G. Woodson wrote, “When you can control a man’s thinking, you don’t have to worry about his actions. … He will find his ‘proper place’ and stay in it,” he was speaking to the necessity of Black education to truly gain knowledge to combat cultural indoctrination and dependence on others.

Today, nowhere is this concept truer than in Florida.


Florida currently leads the so-called “war on woke,” which includes attacks against inclusive curriculum, identity expression and DEI programs. However, its governor and former presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis, admitted that most supporters of his crusade have no idea what it’s truly about, saying: “Not everyone really knows what wokeness is. … A lot of people who rail against wokeness can’t even define it.”

Despite his confession, DeSantis’ battle against public education, which specifically impacts racially diverse and LGBTQ+ students, wages on. Under his strict guidance and bolstered by his close affiliation with anti-student inclusion groups, Florida has enacted education legislation and policies seeking to control K-12 public education through limits on teaching certain aspects of American history, bans on library and textbooks, and regulations on how LGBTQ+ students identify and exist at school.

In recent years, Florida has made national waves with its “Don’t Say Gay” bill, prohibiting classroom discussion of gender and sexual orientation, and its “Stop WOKE” act, limiting the instruction on race.

This type of widely encompassing, vague legislation has put Florida at the forefront of book bans, restrictive teaching guidelines and policies against LGBTQ+ students.

Despite 70% of parents opposing book bans nationwide, according to American Library Association polling, the removal of books from classrooms and libraries is at an all-time high, demonstrating increased censorship of materials on race, history, sexual orientation, gender and religion. Florida is a leader in this trend.

PEN America reported that during the 2022–23 school year, 40% of book bans across the country occurred in Florida. Furthermore, three anti-student inclusion groups —Moms for Liberty, Citizens Defending Freedom and Parents’ Rights in Education— are particularly responsible for the bans across the country, which totaled 3,362. Two of these anti-student inclusion groups have a significant presence in Florida. Moms for Liberty has 32 chapters in the state, while Citizens Defending Freedom has seven. Several other anti-student inclusion groups are affiliated with different national organizations.

Across the country, 30% of bans pertained to subject matter involving characters of color or themes of race and racism; another 30% were related to LGBTQ+ characters or themes. These subjects are front and center in Florida’s crusade to direct what students learn and who is reflected in school curriculum.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that over a quarter of high school students identify as LGBTQ+, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that 84 anti-LGBTQ+ bills passed into law during the 2023 legislative session; 40% of these included restrictions to student and educator rights. The restrictive policies limit the expression of LGBTQ+ students, including the elimination of affinity groups and safe spaces, the ban of using preferred names and pronouns, and the restriction to using facilities that align with a person’s gender assigned at birth.

With the “Stop WOKE Act,” Florida has suppressed the teaching of the true history of Black, Indigenous and others. The state’s civics standards have come under fire, with some teachers even expressing concern about the strict focus on patriotism, while downplaying such important historical topics as slavery. The African American history standards also gained national attention because of revisionist teachings, including that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” These were introduced just months after the state rejected the College Board’s AP African American course for high school, saying that it lacked opposing viewpoints on such topics as slavery and lacked education value.

Florida’s goal of controlling its public education also reaches to higher education. Gov. DeSantis commandeered New College of Florida in an attempt to recreate it as the Hillsdale College of the South. His bans on DEI programs are also forcing faculty and staff at state colleges and universities to update their professional titles, rewrite syllabi and censor their emails for fear of disciplinary action.

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A measuring rod

Early in the 20th century, the “Lost Cause” myth, claiming that slavery was not the main cause for the Civil War, firmly gripped the American South. The United Daughters of the Confederacy went so far as to publish A Measuring Rod To Test Text Books, and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries, which was a guide to how Southern history and culture should be reflected in textbooks. With the intent to eradicate any parts of history that painted the South in a bad light, the guide included instructions such as rejecting “a book that speaks of the slaveholder of the South as cruel and unjust.”

The trend at all levels of public education of banning or revising Black history goes beyond mere attacks on critical race theory and culture wars. They are a method of asserting control on public education to keep the culture and teachings white, straight and cisgender.

These efforts minimize the experiences and contributions of historically marginalized populations. These attacks on inclusive education, including how educators can teach subjects like slavery, come in the form of challenging curriculum, banning books and passing policies. As censorship and authoritarianism in public education wages on, historically marginalized populations are once again experiencing the pressure to assimilate. This is particularly happening where politicians and anti-student inclusion groups are diligently working to tightly control public education and infuse their own political beliefs and doctrines, ignoring the irony that enslaved and Indigenous history is being attacked as un-American and open to interpretation when they actually make up a significant portion of true American history.

Anti-student inclusion groups maintain antigovernment ideals and use extremist tactics to combat student diversity and inclusive education. Most formed in response to COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates in public schools. However, they quickly evolved their focus to attacks on historically marginalized students. Their tactics include challenging reading materials, mostly pertaining to people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, challenging school policies that allow LGBTQ+ students to be accepted and safe at school, and pushing to eliminate inclusive curriculum that includes the accurate teaching of hard parts of American history.

Moms for Liberty self reports 310 chapters in 48 states with 130,000 members. Other notable groups include Moms for America, Parents Defending Education and Citizens Defending Freedom.

Illustration by Trevor Davis

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