Should schools teach the history of communism?

Published on February 14, 2024 at 3:47 pm

An at-times tense meeting of a House panel Tuesday exposed a simmering debate about whether a proposal to teach about the history of communism in grades as low as kindergarten is a polarizing idea or, as a supporter said, “not divisive in any way.”

The bill (HB 1349) is co-sponsored by state Rep. Robert Charles Brannan III, R-Maccleny, who said nothing about the bill is nefarious and Florida “is home to a diverse community of victims of communism.”

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The bill would require lessons about communism and its history in all grades of public schools. The requirement would take effect in the 2026-2027 school year, and lessons would have to be “age appropriate and developmentally appropriate” while covering certain topics.

For example, the bill would require lessons about the history of communism in the U.S. and domestic communist movements. The measure also would require teaching about the “increasing threat of communism in the United States and our allies through the 20th Century, including the events of the Cultural Revolution in the People’s Republic of China and other mass killings from communist regimes.”

The Republican-controlled House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee voted 10-2 along party lines to approve the bill, with three of the panel’s five Democrats absent when the vote was taken.

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Rep. Patricia Williams, D-Pompano Beach, pointed to a need to address other educational issues such as students not being able to read on grade level and said the bill’s supporters “want to put something in the classroom to divide them.”

Williams also suggested that the measure’s supporters were following orders by backing the bill.

“I’m so glad that the Democratic Party allows us to vote our district and our history, versus being robots, given something (that) somebody tells you what to do and how to do it,” Williams said.

Brannan rebutted Williams’ comments, saying that he had only spoken about the measure with constituents.

“The insinuation that someone told me to run a bill — I refute that, that is totally a bald-faced lie and not true. I don’t know where that comes from,” Brannan said.

Brannan also said “this educational initiative is not divisive in any way. There’s nothing nefarious about this.”

“It simply aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of communism’s impact. Not as indoctrination or fear-mongering. But as a means of acknowledging its role in victimizing, torturing, murdering and displacing millions of people in the past century,” Brannan said.

The measure also seeks to set up a Communism History Task Force under the state Department of Education. The proposed task force would be made up of gubernatorial appointees and would be responsible for recommending curriculums and academic standards for instruction about communism.

Julie Meadows-Keefe, who spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of the group Florida Moms for Accurate Education, urged members of the House panel not to approve the bill but said if they did, lawmakers should require it to be “balanced.”

“I would hope that curriculum would be included about the McCarthy era in the United States of America. Where we were divided, at war with one another, where people were unfairly dragged before Congress and accused, unfairly, of being communists. So if we’re going to present this curriculum, I would hope that it would be balanced,” Meadows-Keefe said.

Several Republican lawmakers vehemently defended the bill.

Rep. Vicki Lopez, R-Miami, said lessons about communism were part of her education growing up.

“I may be dating myself a little bit here, I went to school in the ‘60s, at a time when we had Russia in our backyard, and Cuba. I have a distinct recollection of learning about Marxism, communism, the McCarthy era. It was all taught. I didn’t think it was unusual. It wasn’t divisive. I’m curious as to how we got away from it, quite frankly,” Lopez said.

Rep. Alina Garcia, a Miami Republican who said she was born in Cuba, argued that it is “never too early to teach our children the atrocities of communism.”

“When we don’t learn from our history, we are destined to repeat it. And there will be nowhere to go, God forbid, if this country ever falls into the hands of communism,” Garcia said.

A change to the bill approved by the panel Tuesday removed a proposed requirement that instruction about the history of communism include lessons about “cultural Marxism.” A discussion in a previous House meeting focused, in part, on the use of the term and how it would be defined.

A similar Senate bill (SB 1264) awaits a hearing by the Senate Education Appropriations Committee.

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