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Florida Gov. DeSantis Leads The GOP's National Charge Against Public Education That Includes Lessons On Race And Sexual Orientation

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis campaigns for re-election during a rally on November 7, 2022. Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ disdain for “woke ideology” is on full display.

At a January 2023 inaugural event, the governor boasted that “Florida is where woke goes to die.”

This is more than political bluster.

In just the past month, DeSantis has stacked the board of the New College of Florida, a well-known liberal arts college, with right-wing ideologues and has directed universities to report their diversity efforts and critical race theory classes to his office.

So what, precisely, does Desantis – a potential 2024 presidential nominee – oppose?

That became clear in December 2022 when multiple DeSantis officials appeared before a federal judge to defend the governor’s decision to suspend a local prosecutor whom DeSantis had termed a “woke ideologue.” The judge asked Ryan Newman, DeSantis’ general counsel, to define “woke.”

Newman answered that “woke” is “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Newman added that DeSantis does not believe systemic injustices exist in the United States.

DeSantis, for his part, has explicitly denied that systemic racism exists – characterizing the notion as “a bunch of horse manure.”

In my view as a legal scholar on race and law, Newman’s explanation was a stark admission.

By his own account, Newman placed DeSantis on the side of injustice. We might call DeSantis an “injustice denier.” Akin to climate change, there is no legitimate academic debate about the reality of systemic racism.

It’s real. It’s pervasive. It’s unjust. No amount of denial can change that – even if it scores political points.

Political campaign against ‘woke’

When DeSantis and others bemoan “woke indoctrination,” their claim is not that schools should be value-free zones.

Their claim is that schools teach the wrong values.

This should surprise no one.

In the wake of 2020’s global uprising for racial justice, right-wing think tanks, foundations and officials launched an open smear campaign to stigmatize modest efforts to make American classrooms more inclusive and curriculum more comprehensive.

As early as March 2021, one of the campaign’s chief architects, Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, publicly bragged about weaponizing critical race theory to further that agenda.

Rufo further explained that maligning critical race theory through calculated caricature and distortion was an “obvious” element of a “public persuasion campaign” to erode faith in public schools.

Rufo, one of DeSantis’ recent board appointees, has outlined the end goal: “lay seige to the institutions” and return Americans to a pre-civil rights social order that lacked affirmative commitments to racial inclusion.

A long history of white resistance

Proponents often claim that laws and policies designed to restrict classroom conversations about race are necessary to protect mostly white students from emotional discomfort.

Yet over two years into an open disinformation campaign and hundreds of laws designed to suppress “woke” viewpoints, many in the mainstream media still frame anti-racism and anti-anti-racism as competing sides in an educational culture war.

In my view, the culture war framing is odd.

It exaggerates disagreement among typical Americans – most of whom believe students should learn about racism and reject book bans. It falsely recasts a top-down political project as a grassroots uprising. And it minimizes the rising toll on students, parents and educators.

The “culture war” frame also implies Americans are fighting over values, yet rarely makes explicit those competing values.

One thing is clear.

There is little new about this culture war.

It is hard to miss the parallels in rhetoric and tactics between 21st-century anti-anti-racism and 20th-century massive resistance, when segregationists openly defied federal court orders to integrate public schools.

Past generations have invoked “religious liberty,” “school choice” and “parents’ rights” to defend the prevailing social order, defund public schools and discredit efforts to redistribute racial power.

A group of parents and children are holding up posters during a demonstration against teaching race in schools.
People hold up signs during a rally against critical race theory in Leesburg, Va., on June 12, 2021.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

In my view, many of today’s anti-anti-racists rehearse the same old rhetoric for similar ends.

Past generations harnessed state power to penalize educators who dared to teach about injustice.

Historian Candace Cunningham recounts one example from 1956 South Carolina.

Two years after Brown v. Board of Education, South Carolina’s white Legislature enacted 14 laws designed to stymie civil rights.

This included a law that required all teachers to swear an anti-NAACP oath – a law designed to target Black educators and “destabilize the civil rights movement,” as Cunningham explains.

Impact on cultural literacy

A revival of such measures has occurred since 2020.

In at least 15 states, GOP officials have passed “educational gag orders” to chill classroom conversations about race, racism and related topics. This includes Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act,” a portion of which was enjoined in November 2022.

Given the laws’ design and effect, University of Florida Law Professor Kathryn Russell-Brown has likened this legislation to 19th-century anti-literacy laws.

According to free speech advocacy group PEN America, 2022 saw a 250% jump in such laws, which became more punitive and more likely to target higher education and LGBTQ identities.

Similar policies have accelerated at the local level across the country.

As of December 2022, UCLA’s CRT Forward Tracking Project had identified over 130 school district policies that target anti-racist pedagogy and curriculum.

A related study from January 2022 found that state and local anti-literacy laws affected over 900 districts, accounting for 35% of America’s K-12 students.

Given that 2022 saw more educational gag orders than the prior two years combined, that number is no doubt higher now.

Academic freedom under state review

Many of the same GOP officials pushing anti-literacy laws are also actively eroding key safeguards that shield public universities and professors from political interference.

Not surprisingly, DeSantis is a leading proponent of such efforts to curb university independence.

In Texas, the lieutenant governor threatened to terminate tenure after the University of Texas’ faculty leadership reaffirmed the value of academic freedom and the right to teach about race and gender justice.

Right-wing groups also have fueled defamatory campaigns against school leaders, teachers and librarians.

Many of the same groups have spearheaded an unprecedented wave of book bans.

PEN America tallied over 2,500 individual bans from July 2021 to June 2022.

This includes books like “When Wilma Rudolph Played Basketball,” which explores how an African American athlete overcame physical limitations and racial prejudice to win medals in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics.

Under the words Awake and Not Woke, workers prepare a stage for a conference with conservative Republicans.
Workers prepare the stage for the 2022 meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Experts have attributed the extreme rhetoric accompanying book bans and anti-literacy laws to a rise in threats and acts of physical violence. This includes nearly 200 documented anti-LGBTQ+ events in 2022 – a twelvefold increase over 2020 – and bomb threats targeting historically Black colleges and universities and other entities serving communities of color.

Against this backdrop, it is notable that the midterm elections revealed the limitations of anti-CRT and anti-wokeness rhetoric.

But those limitations seem unlikely to alter GOP talking points or the broader assault on public education.

The incoming GOP House leadership has already renewed its pledge to purge schools of critical race theory and “woke ideology.”

To borrow a phrase from the late Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, one might conclude that anti-anti-racism embodies a “fear of too much justice.”

The Conversation

Jonathan Feingold attended UCLA School of Law, where he graduated with a specialization in Critical Race Studies.

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Politics

Chinese Spy Balloon Over The US: An Aerospace Expert Explains How The Balloons Work And What They Can See

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A Chinese surveillance balloon in U.S. airspace before it was shot down by the U.S. military. Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The U.S. military shot down what U.S. officials called a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, 2023. Officials said that the U.S. Navy planned to recover the debris, which is in shallow water.

The U.S. and Canada tracked the balloon as it crossed the Aleutian Islands, passed over Western Canada and entered U.S. airspace over Idaho. Officials of the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed on Feb. 2, 2023, that the military was tracking the balloon as it flew over the continental U.S. at an altitude of about 60,000 feet, including over Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The base houses the 341st Missile Wing, which operates nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The next day, Chinese officials acknowledged that the balloon was theirs but denied it was intended for spying or meant to enter U.S. airspace. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the balloon’s incursion led him to cancel his trip to Beijing. He had been scheduled to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Feb. 5 and 6.

The Pentagon has reported that a second suspected Chinese balloon was seen over Latin America. On Feb. 4, officials told reporters that a third Chinese surveillance balloon was operating somewhere else in the world, and that the balloons are part of a Chinese military surveillance program.

Monitoring an adversary from a balloon dates back to 1794, when the French used a hot air balloon to track Austrian and Dutch troops in the Battle of Fleurus. We asked aerospace engineer Iain Boyd of the University of Colorado Boulder to explain how spy balloons work and why anyone would use one in the 21st century.

What is a spy balloon?

A spy balloon is literally a gas-filled balloon that is flying quite high in the sky, more or less where we fly commercial airplanes. It has some sophisticated cameras and imaging technology on it, and it’s pointing all of those instruments down at the ground. It’s collecting information through photography and other imaging of whatever is going on down on the ground below it.

A high-altitude Chinese balloon drifted over the U.S., entering over Montana and moving over the central portion of the country, causing the U.S. to send fighter jets into the air and triggering an angry response from the U.S. government.

Why would someone want to use a spy balloon instead of just using spy satellites?

Satellites are the preferred method of spying from overhead. Spy satellites are above us today, typically at one of two different types of orbit.

The first is called low Earth orbit, and, as the name suggests, those satellites are relatively close to the ground. But they’re still several hundred miles above us. For imaging and taking photographs, the closer you are to something, the more clearly you can see it, and this applies to spying as well. The satellites that are in low Earth orbit have the advantage that they’re closer to the Earth so they’re able to see things more clearly than satellites that are farther away.

The disadvantage these low Earth orbit satellites have is that they are continually moving around the Earth. It takes them about 90 minutes to do one orbit around the Earth. That turns out to be pretty fast in terms of taking clear photographs of what’s going on below.

The second type of satellite orbit is called geosynchronous orbit, and that’s much farther away. It has the disadvantage that it’s harder to see things clearly when you’re very, very far away. But they have the advantage of what we call persistence, allowing satellites to capture images continuously. In those orbits, you’re essentially overlooking the exact same piece of ground on the Earth’s surface all the time because the satellite moves in exactly the same way the earth rotates – it rotates at the exact same speed.

a black-and-white view from high above a seaport showing a submarine
A U.S. satellite photo showing a Soviet submarine in port in 1982.
National Reconnaissance Office

A balloon in some ways gets the best of those. These balloons are much, much closer to the ground than any of the satellites, so they can see even more clearly. And then, of course, balloons are moving, but they’re moving relatively slowly, so they also have a degree of persistence. However, spying is not usually done these days with balloons because they are a relatively easy target and are not completely controllable.

What types of surveillance are spy balloons capable of?

I don’t know what’s on this particular spy balloon, but it’s likely to be different kinds of cameras collecting different types of information.

These days, imaging is conducted across different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Humans see in a certain range of this spectrum, the visible spectrum. And so if you have a camera and you take a photograph of your dog, that’s a visible photograph. That’s one of the things spy aircraft do. They take regular photographs, although they have very good zoom capabilities to be able to magnify what they’re seeing quite a lot.

But you can also gather different kinds of information in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Another fairly well-known one is infrared. If it’s nighttime, a camera operating in the visible part of the spectrum is not going to show you anything. It’s all going to be dark. But an infrared camera can pick up things from heat in the dark.

How do these balloons navigate?

Most of these balloons literally go where the wind blows. There can be a little bit of navigation, but there are certainly not people aboard them. They are at the mercy of whatever the weather is. They sometimes have guiding apparatus on them that change a balloon’s altitude to catch winds going in particular directions. According to reports, U.S. officials said the Chinese surveillance balloon had propellers to help steer it. If this is confirmed, it means that its operator would have much more control over the path of the balloon.

What are the limits to a nation’s airspace? At what altitude does it become space and anybody’s right to be there?

There is an internationally accepted boundary called the Kármán Line at 62 miles (100 kilometers) altitude. This balloon is well below that, so it is absolutely, definitely in U.S. airspace.

Which countries are known to be using spy balloons?

The Pentagon has had programs over the last few decades studying what can be done with balloons that couldn’t be done in the past. Maybe they’re bigger, maybe they can go higher in the atmosphere so they’re more difficult to shoot down or disable. Maybe they could be more persistent.

The broad interest in this incident illustrates its unusual nature. Few people would expect any country to be actively using spy balloons these days.

The U.S. flew many balloons over the Soviet Union in the 1940s and 1950s, and those were eventually replaced by the high-altitude spy airplanes, the U-2s, and they were subsequently replaced by satellites.

a black and white photograph of a group of men holding ropes attached to a large balloon being inflated from the back of a truck in a desert
Project Moby Dick was an early Cold War-era effort by the U.S. to monitor the Soviet Union using high-altitude balloons.
United States Air Force Public Affairs

I’m sure a number of countries around the world have periodically gone back to reevaluate: Are there other things we could do now with balloons that we couldn’t do before? Do they close some gaps we have from satellites and airplanes?

What does that say about the nature of this balloon, which China confirmed is theirs?

China has complained for many years about the U.S. spying on China through satellites, through ships. And China is also well known for engaging in somewhat provocative behavior, like in the South China Sea, sailing close to other nations’ boundaries and saber-rattling. I think it falls into that category.

The balloon doesn’t pose any real threat to the U.S. I think sometimes China is just experimenting to see how far they can push things. This isn’t really very advanced technology. It’s not serving any real military purpose. I think it’s much more likely some kind of political message.

This article has been updated to include news that the balloon has been shot down by the U.S. military.

The Conversation

Iain Boyd receives funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, and Lockheed-Martin.

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The UK preps for what could become the largest strike ever for the country

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Much of the UK is at a standstill after what could be the largest strike ever in their country.

Up to half a million British teachers, civil servants, and train drivers walked out over pay in the largest coordinated strike action for a decade on Wednesday, with unions threatening more disruption as the government digs its heels in over pay demands.

The mass walkouts across the country shut schools, halted most rail services, and forced the military to be put on standby to help with border checks on a day dubbed “Walkout Wednesday.” According to unions, as many as 300 thousand teachers took part, they’re the biggest group involved.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak condemned the strikes which forced millions of children to miss school.

His government has taken a hard line against the unions, arguing that giving in to demands for large wage hikes would further fuel Britain’s inflation problem. With inflation running at more than 10 percent the highest level in four decades Britain has seen a wave of strikes in recent months across the public and private sectors, including health and transport workers, Amazon warehouse employees, and Royal Mail postal staff.

Next week, nurses, ambulance staff, paramedics, emergency call handlers, and other healthcare workers are set to stage more walkouts, while firefighters this week also backed a nationwide strike.

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The Brazilian congress could soon criminalize people who refuse the COVID vaccines

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Six bills currently in the Brazilian congress will crack down on any opposition to the COVID vaccines.

The bills criminalize everything from cutting in line to receive a vaccine to people who spread “fake news” about how vaccines work. People could also face 1 to 3 years in prison if they omit or oppose the mandatory vaccination of children or adolescents in a “public health emergency”. The project also criminalizes, with a penalty of two to eight years in prison, people who refuse to take the mandatory doses of vaccines.

And the same punishment also applies to those who spread “false news” about the vaccines or how they work. If the individual is a public employee, the penalty is doubled.

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