Education and human rights experts shredded Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after he announced a new tactic in his war on “wokeness” and critical race theory on Wednesday, saying the Republican firebrand completely missed the mark and doesn’t even appear to know the meaning of critical race theory.
While standing onstage with a group of people holding stop signs with “CRT” crossed out, DeSantis unveiled the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act,” which stands for “Stop Wrongs Against our Kids and Employees Act.”
Without actually proving that critical race theory is taught in Florida schools, DeSantis said it will be banished from all public schools. In a novel tactic, parents will be able to sue schools suspected of teaching the ideology. He quipped that parents know what’s best for their children and that educators lie about whether they teach critical race theory to students.
“[The Stop W.O.K.E. Act] will do a number of things that are very important. It will put into statute the Department of Education’s prohibition on CRT in K-12 schools. No taxpayer dollars should be used to teach our kids to hate our country or to hate each other,” DeSantis said to a room of applause. “We’re going to be including in this legislation, giving parents a private right of action to be able to enforce the prohibition on CRT, and they get to recover attorneys’ fees when they prevail.”
But Florida teacher Dr. Cindy Banyai, who ran as a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives last year, said no K-12 schools in Florida even teach CRT.
“We are lucky if they are given enough funds to teach kids to read,” she tweeted. “We must stop the attacks on education and the continuous GOP efforts to defund our schools. DeSantis’ Stop Woke Act is a dangerous political charade.”
Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said in a statement that politicians shouldn’t be trying to censor teachers’ ability to teach American history.
“Teachers are trained and experienced in educating children and have a duty to prepare their students to be successful contributors to society. Teachers should have the freedom to teach honest, complete facts about historical events like slavery and civil rights without being censored by politicians,” the statement said. “The governor’s announcement today goes against this fundamental American value. All Florida’s children should receive a fact-based education that doesn’t change depending on their ZIP code.”
According to Harvard University, critical race theory is a concept taught in law schools that explores how race has affected people’s daily lives through legal institutions. The NAACP says it “recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities,” whether it’s within “education and housing to employment and healthcare.”
DeSantis even invoked Martin Luther King Jr. on Wednesday, claiming that “people don't talk enough” about the late civil rights leader’s desire for people “to be judged on the content of their character, not their skin color”—an ironic argument considering critical race theory urges people to examine how race systemically affects how people of color are treated.
He then turned his attention from schools to blasting companies for apparently having employees go through training that incorporates critical race theory. He called out Bank of America, Verizon, and Google for creating “hostile work environments.”
“This goes beyond education, and it goes beyond just schooling,” he claimed. “It really has just become something that’s being utilized by corporate America.”
He accused diversity, equity, and inclusion consultants of making unnecessary amounts of money and spreading the ideology to other institutions. “This has become a cottage industry,” DeSantis said. “…They basically will get tens of thousands of dollars to go in and do a training.”
He then criticized the concept of “equity,” equating it to a way people “smuggle in their ideology.”
“We don’t need to have these terms,” he claimed. “We have a society based on ‘equality,’ where you’re treated equally regardless of your upbringing, regardless of your race. You have the same rights and privileges as anybody else. ‘Equity’ is used to put the thumb on the scale in favor of their ideology. That’s where you get things like CRT.”
But human rights activist and attorney Qasim Rashid countered on Twitter that “Passing laws like the Stop Woke Act to ban teaching about the existence of racism literally proves a central point of critical race theory—that racism is often built in to our legal system & must be actively purged to achieve true justice.”
Florida State House Democratic candidate Evan Shields dismissed the bill to The Daily Beast as just another political stunt. “DeSantis is doing his usual thing,” he said. “Playing dog whistle politics on fake problems in a run up to 2024. Instead of uplifting Florida kids and families recovering from the pandemic. It’s sad.”
After DeSantis ridiculed Black Lives Matter for being a “radical organization,” he passed the podium off to a series of speakers, like Seattle-based conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who claimed people are being taught to “denounce whiteness,” and Moms for Liberty Miami-Dade Chapter Chair Eulalia Jimenez, who complained that “God has been removed from our schools” and “American history [has been] replaced by critical race theory.”
Florida Lt. Gov. Jeannette Nuñez compared critical race theory to Marxist communism, and Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran sounded nearly bewildered that the concept has been taught for 50 years—since the Civil Rights Era.
“It’s an untruth; it’s a lie,” he said.
Adding one more insane measure to the mix, DeSantis said Florida students will have to take a test when they finish school to prove their loyalty.
“We’ll be doing exams when people leave school, which will be like the citizenship exam that naturalized immigrants have to take,” he said. “At the end of the day, everybody that comes through our school system… everyone is going to be an American citizen, and they’re going to have duties and responsibilities. They need to understand what that means, and they need to understand the principles that our country was founded upon.”
When it comes to critical race theory, he said, “Nobody wants this crap. It’s an elite-driven phenomenon.”