Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recapped the best hits of his administration to an appreciative crowd of homeschool parents in Orlando on May 26.
At his first public speech since declaring his candidacy two days prior, they frequently roared their approval.
Much of what DeSantis has done to fight what he typically calls “the woke agenda” is aimed at parents concerned about what their children are learning in school.
And this was a room full of people—more than 4,000, according to DeSantis’s office—who think schools are so out of whack they teach their kids at home.
Reopening Florida’s schools early during the COVID pandemic? Check. Pulling sexually explicit materials off public school library shelves? Check. Putting the Constitution and civics back in the classroom? Increasing school choice and support for homeschool families? Backing vocational education at college isn’t for everyone? Check, check, and check.
Florida is ranked No. 1 in education by U.S. News and World Report. Check. Ranked No. 1 in college affordability. Check.
And there was more: his cleaning house at the state’s New College, supposed to be an elite college but with its enrolment down and a curriculum ever-more focused on woke issues. He fired the president and installed a new board of conservative members, charged with making the school a classical liberal arts college.
There’s his war with Disney, the state’s biggest private employer, with Disney World just outside Orlando.
It was triggered by the company’s opposition to his signature Parental Rights in Education bill, but DeSantis has also made it about the company that once defined itself as “family friendly” beginning to sexualize its child-directed entertainment.
There is the aforementioned Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed misleadingly as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by its opponents.
DeSantis bolstered parents’ rights to advise and consent to what their children are being taught, took measures to restore age-appropriateness to what children are taught at various grades, and halted what he has begun calling “the pronoun Olympics” from public schools.
Parents at the Florida Parent Educators Homeschool Convention frequently erupted in cheers, going wild for lines like “gender ideology has no place in our education system.”
“Who would have thought the FBI would ever go after parents going to school board meetings? And yet that is happening and has happened,” DeSantis said, alluding to parents in Loudoun County, Va., tagged as domestic terrorists—and whose political reaction helped feed the upset victory of Glenn Youngkin in the Virginia governor’s race in 2021.
The case involved a teenage boy—who wore a skirt and was said to identify as gender fluid—using the girls’ restroom in accordance with school policy and attacking a teenage girl. He was later convicted.
DeSantis said Florida wants parents involved in their children’s education and “armed with the ability to make sure their kids are in a safe environment.”
The political left, though, “make no mistake, they don’t want the parents involved in education, because they view you as an impediment to their ideological agenda. They view you as an impediment to their ability to indoctrinate kids with their beliefs and their agendas.”
Supporting the restoration of civics education to Florida classrooms, he said it was essential to teach about the republic’s foundations, its religious influences, and those of the English constitution, “all these important things that have become a lost art in modern American society.”
“We need to teach them about our Constitution and our Bill of Rights. We need to teach them why people have been willing to fight and die to preserve our way of life. And so we are doing that in Florida.”
DeSantis tied together broad themes like education, the Framers’ intent in creating the Constitution, and what it takes to keep a democracy alive.
“What we’re doing is taking education into our own hands as Floridians, and you’re doing it as parents in the homeschool movement,” he said.
“We’re doing it in Tallahassee, as governor and our legislature, to say education is just something we’ve got to get right. You cannot have a society in which education just totally collapses into a lot of these side issues.”
“I always took for granted that we lived in a free country,” DeSantis said. “I never thought that there would honestly be a threat to freedom here.”
With the bureaucracy’s overreach during COVID-19 and the “weaponization” of agencies like the FBI, he said, “it’s really impressed upon me just how fragile freedom really is.”
“Our Founding Fathers understood this when they met in Philadelphia to frame the Constitution in 1787. They brought with them an intense study of the history of every republic that had ever been tried in the history of mankind.
“Their study showed them that there was only one thing that all of these experiments in republican forms of government had in common, throughout history, and it was this: Every single one of them had failed.
“And so they believed, and they were right, that it really falls to the United States of America to determine: could people really govern themselves? Can we have a society based on the idea that our rights come from God, not from the government?
“Could we have a society based on the idea of the rule of law, not the rule of individual men? Or was mankind forever destined to live under various forms of despotism?”
DeSantis told a historical anecdote he likes—of a woman stopping Benjamin Franklin in the street as he walked out of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and asking, “What have you given us? A republic or a monarchy?”
“His response was, ‘A republic, if you can keep it,’” DeSantis said, emphasizing the “you.”
“Franklin and the founders understood you could have the best Constitution in the world. You can have the best Declaration of Independence in the world. These things do not run on autopilot.”
Citizens have to contribute, he said, which might mean “you put on the uniform of your country like I have, and go and serve overseas. And many people have given the last full measure of devotion for service to our country.”
“It may just mean that you’re engaged in your community as a parent taking an interest in your kids’ education, taking an interest in school board. There’s a host of ways that you can uphold these core principles.”
“I believe the survival of the American experiment requires a revival of true American principles. You are part of that revival.”
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