April 10, 2023
At a March roundtable discussion hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz made it clear that directing the state’s classroom social studies agendas away from an ideological focus and toward the pursuit of truth is the chief priority of Florida’s Department of Education.
This is great news. For too long, too many Florida students have been subjected to textbooks and curricula steeped in political bias.
Too many textbook writers have taken up the task of explaining the world to students based on their own personal beliefs. But their responsibility should be to help students discover historical truth — triumphs, failures, and all. Discovering the true story of America will not only inspire wonder but also help foster an understanding and love of how to uncover the truth for oneself.
Commissioner Diaz, who worked as a high school social studies teacher and assistant principal in Florida before entering the political arena, understands this issue better than most. He’s seen firsthand how bias was creeping into the Sunshine State’s classrooms, and now he and Gov. DeSantis have made it a priority to reverse this concerning trend.
The Civics Education Initiative, which the DeSantis administration announced last year, aims to further this shared goal. The initiative is providing Florida students and teachers with the funding, resources, and support they need to cut through the bias often peddled by textbooks by promoting the use of primary source documents to learn American history.
The truth about America is in America’s documents. Unlike textbooks, primary source documents allow students to gain a proper understanding of what it means to be an American and their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
For the past 15 years, The James Madison Institute, where I serve as executive vice president, has worked to directly engage both middle and high school students on the principles of civics – more than one million to date. This mission, to instill the values of our founding principles to the next generation, is critical to our nation’s success.
When given the chance, it works. Nonprofit organizations have proven the effectiveness of discussion-based study of primary source documents. Groups like The Ashbrook Center, which frequently offers free educational seminars and classroom resources to train Florida’s educators on how to teach through this primary source educational approach, is one of them.
One Florida-based Ashbrook teacher was recognized not long ago as the Daughters of the American Revolution history teacher of the year for our state. This speaks volumes about the effectiveness of teaching through primary source documents, and it’s wonderfully encouraging to see Commissioner Diaz and Gov. DeSantis adopting this same approach as a cornerstone for education.
Florida’s classrooms should be devoted to passing on the principles and habits required for constitutional self-government, not snuffing them out. Ensuring our children learn history, both good and bad, without ideological prejudice will help them learn to think for themselves. Truth doesn’t have a political platform, neither should our children’s education.
Kudos to Commissioner Diaz and Governor DeSantis for turning their bold education vision into reality. They are preparing the next generation of students in Florida to be the leaders we need for a stronger Florida and a stronger America; and for that, we should all be grateful.