Seven Collier County parents affiliated with the Florida Citizens Alliance will each have up to ten minutes to object to Collier County Public School textbook selections at a Special School Board meeting next Thursday, thanks to SB 864: Instructional Materials for K–12 Public Education, signed into law by Gov. Scott in 2014.
Florida Citizens Alliance (FCA) is a “self-professed constitutionalism group” whose issues are the Second Amendment and local control of public education. It was founded by Keith Flaugh of Marco Island; Collier School Board member Erika Donalds was also a founding member, and unsuccessful 2016 School Board candidate Louise Penta serves on the group’s Board of Directors.
Backed by FCA, SB 864 requires at least one parent to be included in a school district’s textbook review process. This year’s CS/HB 989, sponsored by Donalds’ husband Rep. Byron Donalds and also backed by FCA, takes SB 864 even further by giving any local taxpayer the right to challenge, in FCA’s words, “factually inaccurate instructional materials (materials that do not present balanced viewpoints on issues), as well as other instructional materials that contain age-inappropriate sexually explicit material that violates existing Florida Laws.”
My goal with this post is to make readers aware of who these objections are coming from (not just any parent) and their ideology. I will share some of the objections to each book, but to get the full flavor, I encourage you to read at least one of the submissions in its entirety. By clicking a book’s title, below, you can access the book from the District’s website, but this access may only be available until the conclusion of the Special School Board Meeting.
Florida Social Studies – used in grades K–5
The objection to this series of social studies books was submitted by Kenneth Lee Dixon, unsuccessful 2014 School Board candidate and parent of a Mason Classical Academy Charter School student, and Mary Ellen Cash, a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Read it here. They assert that the series is suited for English language learners and therefore “reduce(s) rigor and is not appropriate for mainstream or gifted students.” They also criticize when and the way in which immigration is presented and that immigration law is not addressed.
By the People: A History of the United States – used in high school Advanced Placement U.S. History
David Bolduc, who succeeded Erika Donalds as president of Parents ROCK, and a parent of a Naples High School student, objected (here) to this book. In his view, “this History textbook is more concerned with indoctrinating our children to become future social justice warriors part of a humanistic, collectivized society where rights are given by government, rather than teaching them the United States of America was created based on the universal principles of the unalienable God-given rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness as stated in the Declaration of Independence.” He believes the theme or purpose of the book is “To glorify advocates who want to destroy the founding values of the United States of America and substitute them with an authoritarian, communist, collectivise [sic] form of government and economy,” the consequence of which would be “to accept collectivism as beneficial.”
Understanding Economics – used in high school Economics
James Kelly submitted an objection (here) to this textbook. The same document on the Florida Citizens Alliance website was submitted by Joseph Doyle, a frequent CCPS critic at School Board meetings. They call the book “a continuation of the left-leaning propaganda that demonizes free enterprise while advocating top-down government, deficit spending and class warfare.” They point to a lesson on fiscal policy that “is riddled with editorializing and sweeping generalizations that disparage supply-side economics,” and say the textbook “glorifies the biographies of ideologues Karl Marx, Cezar Chavez, and Paul Krugman as well as pop culture financial industry celebrities Suze Orman and Janet Yellen, and CEO’s [sic] Daniel Akerson and Irene Rosenfeld.”
Street Law: A Course in Practical Law – used in high school Law Studies
Brantley Oakey, parent of a Mason Classical Academy student, objected (here) to this textbook. He sees a “recurring theme that the Constitution is inferior and should model the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and provide economic rights.” As a consequence, “Students will be conditioned to believe everyone should be entitled to free healthcare, housing, and work as a legal right and that the Constitution needs to be changed to accommodate this.”
Steven J. Bracci also objected to the Law Studies textbook (here). Bracci, a Naples attorney who has sued both the Collier County School Board and the Superintendent, is a parent of students attending Gulf Coast High School and North Naples Middle School. He cites a “bias against the status quo of the U.S. legal system, and the U.S. Constitution in particular.” Among his specific criticisms:
- The book frames the National Rifle Association in the negative (they “oppose restrictions on gun ownership and use”) rather than in the affirmative (“for instance, promoting the Constitutional right to bear arms as set forth in the Second Amendment”).
- The section on voting “is slanted as a criticism of a republic form of government, advocating instead in favor of direct votes by the people.”
- The section on campaign finance reform is biased in that it does not “provide any hyperlink to an organization that supports the Citizens United position; by contrast, the link to the League of Women’s [sic] Voters specifically opposes it.”
United States Government: Our Democracy – used in high school U.S. Government
J. Eric Konuk, parent of a Naples High School student, submitted a review (here) that according to the FCA website was co-written with FCA founder Keith Flaugh. It begins by criticizing the book’s title, writing: “US is not a democracy; We are a Constitutional Republic,” and quotes the following from lexrex.com which I traced to The American Ideal of 1776: The Twelve Basic American Principles:
“Democracy and Republic, are not only dissimilar but antithetical, reflecting the sharp contrast between (a) The Majority Unlimited, in a Democracy, lacking any legal safeguard of the rights of The Individual and The Minority, and (b) The Majority Limited, in a Republic under a written Constitution safeguarding the rights of The Individual and The Minority ….”
The ”About Us” page of the Lexrex website Konuk and Flaugh reference concludes: “Forget about ‘Saving the Public Schools!’ SAVE YOUR OWN CHILDREN FIRST! Hopefully the kids in the government-controlled schools can be rehabilitated by your homeschooled kids later. We should have free (100% voluntary – funded by true charity) schools for poor kids and government-controlled schools for no one’s kids.”
Florida United States History – used in high School U.S. History Honors
Douglas A. Lewis, an attorney and parent of three Mason Classical Academy students, and H. Michael Mogil, owner of a local math tutoring company, submitted a 26-page objection (here) to this textbook. Among their objections:
- There is “a strong social undercurrent in the book, attacking white men and businesses and favoring immigrants and government activity.”
- Judging the missions and goals of “the large number of civic and social groups that are listed as program advisors and program partners”, “it is clear that community action for social change and social justice are strong focus.”
- “The material is written in too simplistic a format; questions are not rigorous enough; supportive material is often lacking; and the focus remains on a timeline rather than topical. Further, history in this book is dominated by social and people issues, rather than discussions of significant issues.”
My take, and looking ahead
While I commend the effort it took to review the materials and prepare the written objections, I do not share FCA’s ideology and find a good deal of the rhetoric on its website and the cited lexrex.com website, and in the submitted objections, disturbing.
That said, if the criticism that the books fail to present both sides of issues is valid, I encourage teachers to supplement those presentations. In these highly polarized and politicized times, young people must learn that there ARE controversial issues and how to identify them. They must learn that there are extreme positions as well as more moderate ones, and that dialog and ultimately compromise on difficult issues are necessary in a civil society.
Curriculum and instructional materials were issues in past School Board elections and will continue to be in the elections ahead. FCA can be expected to continue its efforts.
Five elected School Board members make District policy and hire the Superintendent who oversees the education of Collier’s kids. Three of the five seats will be on the ballot in August 2018. It’s not too soon to be paying attention.
As initially published, this post had an incorrect date for the Special Board Meeting, and said each speaker would have three minutes to address the Board. The correct meeting date is Thursday, June 1. I have been advised that each speaker will have up to ten minutes to address the Board.
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