On Ja­nu­a­ry 19th 2023, the go­ver­nor of Flo­ri­da Ron De­San­tis’ ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on re­jec­ted a new Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies high school Ad­van­ced Pla­ce­ment cour­se, clai­ming that it not on­ly vi­o­la­ted state law, but that it al­so lac­ked edu­ca­ti­o­nal va­lue.

Ron De­San­tis’ re­cent ac­ti­ons to sup­p­ress dis­sent in scien­ce in Flo­ri­da must be seen as an ef­fort to drum up sup­port from the con­ser­va­ti­ve base wit­hin the Re­pub­li­can par­ty, whose li­ke­ly pre­si­den­ti­al can­di­da­te De­San­tis is for the up­co­ming elec­ti­on in 2024.

As I am wri­ting this in late Ap­ril, co­ve­ra­ge of this de­ci­si­on and re­ac­ti­ons to it are still on­going. This co­lumn desc­ri­bes this case of pub­lic cont­ro­ver­sy and ins­tan­ce of sup­p­res­si­on of dis­sent of scien­ce in so­cie­ty.

African American Studies Advanced Placement Course

The Col­le­ge Bo­ard, a non-for-pro­fit as­so­ci­a­ti­on con­sis­ting of over 6,000 edu­ca­ti­o­nal ins­ti­tu­ti­ons, es­tab­lis­hed the Ad­van­ced Pla­ce­ment (AP) prog­ram so that, by ta­king AP exams while still en­rol­led in high school, stu­dents could ac­hie­ve ad­van­ced pla­ce­ment in ter­ti­a­ry ins­ti­tu­ti­ons. The AP prog­ram has been col­la­bo­ra­ting with high schools, col­le­ges, and uni­ver­si­ties for more than ten ye­ars to de­ve­lop an AP cour­se in Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies.

The cour­se has been de­sig­ned as an in­ter­dis­cip­li­na­ry cour­se, dra­wing from li­te­ra­tu­re, the arts, the hu­ma­ni­ties, po­li­ti­cal scien­ce, ge­og­rap­hy, and scien­ce to il­lu­mi­na­te Af­ri­can Ame­ri­cans’ vi­tal cont­ri­bu­ti­ons to and ex­pe­rien­ces in Ame­ri­can so­cie­ty. More than 200 col­le­ges and uni­ver­si­ties have al­re­a­dy pled­ged to sup­port AP Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies.

Thus, it came as so­mew­hat of a surp­ri­se to many when the Flo­ri­da De­part­ment of Edu­ca­ti­on re­fu­sed the Col­le­ge Bo­ard to ex­pand the AP Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies pi­lot pro­ject to the state. The de­part­ment ci­ted con­cerns about les­son plan to­pics such as Black Qu­eer Stu­dies, the Black Li­ves Mat­ter mo­ve­ment, Black Fe­mi­nist Li­te­ra­ry Thought, the re­pa­ra­ti­ons mo­ve­ment, and the Black Strug­g­le in the 21st Cen­tu­ry.

The go­vern­ment of­fi­ci­als al­so wor­ried about some of the aut­hors whose works would be part of the AP cour­se be­cau­se they were con­si­de­red com­mu­nists or wrote about the ide­o­lo­gy. The de­part­ment furt­her ob­jec­ted to the cour­se’s les­son sub­ject of re­pa­ra­ti­ons which would exp­lo­re the no­ti­on that des­cen­dants of ens­la­ved pe­op­le should be fi­nan­ci­al­ly reim­bur­sed. They clai­med re­pa­ra­ti­ons were en­dor­sed unc­ri­ti­cal­ly by the cour­se’s plan­ners.

Ron DeSantis’ Florida

Flo­ri­da is the se­cond most po­pu­lous Sout­hern state af­ter Te­xas with about 22 mil­li­on in­ha­bi­tants. Wit­hin the Uni­ted Sta­tes, it is one of the sta­tes with the fas­test gro­wing im­mig­rant po­pu­la­ti­on. In 1865, the conc­lu­si­on of the Ame­ri­can Ci­vil War brought an end to sla­ve­ry in Flo­ri­da.

The next de­ca­des un­til the Ame­ri­can Ci­vil Rights Mo­ve­ment be­gan in the 1950s, po­li­ti­ci­ans di­senf­ranc­hi­sed Af­ri­can Ame­ri­cans in the state and es­tab­lis­hed seg­re­ga­ti­on, a sys­tem of le­ga­li­zed disc­ri­mi­na­ti­on. Sin­ce 2019, Re­pub­li­can Ron De­San­tis has ser­ved as go­ver­nor of Flo­ri­da af­ter ha­ving been a mem­ber of the U.S. Hou­se of Rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ves for five ye­ars.

In Ja­nu­a­ry, his De­part­ment of Edu­ca­ti­on wrote a let­ter to the Col­le­ge Bo­ard clai­ming that it would re­o­pen the dis­cus­si­on should the Col­le­ge Bo­ard be wil­ling to come back to the tab­le with law­ful, his­to­ri­cal­ly ac­cu­ra­te con­tent.

Ron De­San­tis’ go­vern­ment has a his­to­ry of ma­king cont­ro­ver­si­al chan­ges to the state’s edu­ca­ti­on cur­ri­cu­lum es­pe­ci­al­ly re­gar­ding how schools te­ach race as a so­ci­al con­cept. In Ap­ril 2022, De­San­tis sig­ned what he has cal­led his “stop woke act”, pro­hi­bi­ting te­ac­hers from edu­ca­ting stu­dents on cri­ti­cal race the­o­ry, a le­gal con­cept da­ting back to the 1980s.

Cri­ti­cal race the­o­ry sta­tes that in the Uni­ted Sta­tes ra­ci­al dis­pa­ri­ties are sys­te­mic, in cont­rast to just being a col­lec­ti­on of pre­ju­di­ces in­di­vi­du­als hold. Les­sons about The 1619 Pro­ject, a New York Ti­mes U.S. his­to­ry pro­ject that re­views the re­sults of sla­ve­ry while emp­ha­si­zing Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can’s cont­ri­bu­ti­ons, have been bar­red by Flo­ri­da’s go­vern­ment as well.

Ha­ving dec­la­red Flo­ri­da the state where woke goes to die, Go­ver­nor Ron De­San­tis has a his­to­ry of aut­ho­ri­zing laws which li­mit schools’ agen­cy in what as­pects of his­to­ry can be taught.

Positive Consequences of Suppression

Alt­hough po­li­ti­cal cont­rol ob­vi­ous­ly re­sults in ne­ga­ti­ve con­se­qu­en­ces, some out­co­mes might, in the long term, be ad­van­ta­ge­ous to so­cie­ty. First, or­ga­ni­za­ti­ons might be­co­me more ac­ti­ve in pro­tec­ting and fos­te­ring scien­tists’ free­dom of speech.

Se­cond, the af­fec­ted scien­tists could be­co­me more ac­ti­ve in the pub­lic and po­li­tics through scien­ce ad­vo­ca­cy. Third, through pub­lic ad­vo­ca­cy jour­na­lism, jour­na­lists might take on a more ac­ti­ve role in so­cie­ty. Fourth, ci­ti­zens’ en­ga­ge­ment in pub­lic dis­cus­si­ons of scien­ce could imp­ro­ve.1

Thus, the pub­lic outc­ry over Ron De­San­tis’ De­part­ment of Edu­ca­ti­on’s de­ci­si­on to re­ject a new Ad­van­ced Pla­ce­ment cour­se on Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies for Flo­ri­da’s high school stu­dents might be ad­van­ta­ge­ous to Ame­ri­can so­cie­ty in the long run.

Just a few days af­ter the de­part­ment’s de­ci­si­on, Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can ci­vil rights at­tor­ney Ben Crump had gat­he­red three high school stu­dents who were thre­a­te­ning to sue Ron De­San­tis for vi­o­la­ting their cons­ti­tu­ti­o­nal rights. Jour­na­list Bea L. Hi­nes re­min­ded the go­vern­ment of Flo­ri­da on Feb­ru­a­ry 3rd that “Black his­to­ry is Ame­ri­can his­to­ry” and that “you can’t te­ach one wit­hout te­ac­hing the ot­her.”2

On Feb­ru­a­ry 15th, se­ve­ral hund­red most­ly black pro­tes­ters de­monst­ra­ted against the go­ver­nor’s po­li­cies in Tal­la­has­see, the state ca­pi­tol of Flo­ri­da. To the ob­ser­ver stu­dying the sup­p­res­si­on of dis­sent in scien­ce in so­cie­ty, it seems like Ad­van­ced Pla­ce­ment Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies cour­ses are not going down wit­hout a fight in Flo­ri­da in the near fu­tu­re.

Black Ame­ri­cans are at the cen­ter of my own dis­ser­ta­ti­on pro­ject “Free Fra­eu­lein – Ger­man Wo­men and Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Men du­ring Ger­ma­ny’s Hun­ger Ye­ars, 1945-1949. Thus, Ron De­San­tis’ at­tempts to pre­vent fu­tu­re col­le­ge stu­dents from ta­king AP Af­ri­can Ame­ri­can Stu­dies clas­ses could ef­fect the fu­tu­re of my aca­de­mic field in terms of both te­ac­hing and fu­tu­re scien­ti­fic know­led­ge pro­duc­ti­on.

Sour­ce re­fe­ren­ces:
1 Samp­sa Saik­ko­nen, “Free­dom of speech in scien­ce” (lec­tu­re, Uni­ver­si­ty of Hel­sin­ki, Hel­sin­ki, Fin­land, ac­ces­sed March 23,2023).

2 Bea L. Hi­nes, “Gov. De­San­tis, des­pi­te yo­ur ef­forts, we’ll al­wa­ys share our truths about our Black, Ame­ri­can his­to­ry,” Mi­a­mi He­rald, Feb­ru­a­ry 3, 2023.

An­ne Bri­xius is a doc­to­ral re­se­arc­her in His­to­ry and Cul­tu­ral He­ri­ta­ge and a mem­ber of the North Ame­ri­can Stu­dies prog­ram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hel­sin­ki.

The ex­pert ar­tic­le is part of a se­ries of co­lumns on cur­rent US is­su­es writ­ten by the Fin­nish Ame­ri­can Stu­dies As­so­ci­a­ti­on (FASA) for SAM Ma­ga­zi­ne.