The history of fascism provides lessons for today’s attacks on education

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Public education has long been a battleground in the United States, from the Scopes trial to Abolition of apartheid to climate change. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently More control is required on public education-and students’ bodiesUnder the guise of “parental rights” he accelerates this struggle, rejecting the importance of learning as a public good in itself in favor of promoting conformity and uncritical thinking.

As a historian of fascism and Italian fascist education, I find the moves to exercise more power over education disturbingly familiar. Even ignoring the obvious damage DeSantis’ campaign has had on Florida students –actually Hinge by several expertsThe effort to restrict information available to students reflects fascist ambitions in important ways and threatens the very democratic foundations that its proponents claim to stand for.

History shows that these efforts harm us all.

Last summer, Florida lawmakers enacted two laws that limit access to information in public education. One, stop mistakes for our children and employees, or STOP WOKE ACTTeachers and instructional materials are prohibited from promoting the idea that anyone is inherently oppressive or responsible for the actions of others who share “the same race, color, sex, or national origin.” The second, now infamous Law “Don’t Say Like Me”The Parental Rights in Education Act officially prohibits “classroom instruction” in sexual orientation or gender identity before the fourth grade.

Many of the other bills moving through the Florida House and Senate are designed to further stifle critical thinking, debate, and broader awareness of the society we live in – all under the banner of “break free from indoctrination.” Examples include More bans on “teaching segregation” (or recognition) of non-binary gender identities and sexual orientations Widely. Legally definition of “sex” binary and “fixed”; And remove everything Sexual health Education from the primary and middle school curriculum.

Critics included worlds And Policy I denounced such actions not only as symptoms of America’s “culture wars”, but as distinctly “fascist”. I am often frustrated with the ways in which “fascism” is uncritically applied as a substitute for “something I don’t like.” However, highlighting the similarities between DeSantis’ ambitions and those of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini exposes a common threat to democracy.

At the heart of fascist political strategy was the expansion of state control over public and private life under facades of popular support and the common good. Mussolini may have been legally appointed as Prime Minister of Italy in 1922, but by 1927 all political parties had been banned or absorbed into his Fascist party. In the Ministry of Education, Mussolini appointed nine ministers over a period of 21 years. Only five of them had teaching experience but more importantly, all but one (who resigned after six months) were loyal members of the party and did little to question Mussolini’s directives.

Although DeSantis did not ban opposition political parties from the Florida legislature, he took advantage of the governor’s huge, constitutionally granted influence over the education system to exclude dissenting opinions. In Florida, as in more than a dozen other states, all members of the Board of Education are appointed by the Governor. This system means that no academic or professional qualifications are required from members. As evidence, Florida Current Education Board It includes three lawyers, a doctor, two executives, and only one teacher (hired in March).

Another similarity with fascism regarding the preference for loyalty over training is the targeted marginalization of experts and outright Reject contradictory points of view. As Mussolini consolidated power in the 1920s, he placed increasing restrictions on the school curriculum (and public discourse) until the regime announced the development of national textbooks produced by a handful of party followers. These texts prioritized content that supported fascist ideology and conformed to a pseudoscientific worldview, including Mussolini’s revival of the glory of ancient Rome; the racial superiority of the Italians and their right to conquer sovereign kingdoms; the national commitment for women to be mothers to future soldiers; and later, Jewish racial inferiority.

Likewise, DeSantis’ calls to censor content under the pretense of returning lessons to “facts” ignore the findings of people who are entitled to articulate those “facts” unless they support the required narrative. This lack of experience is doubly dangerous for our students and democracy. First, it means that few people rely on their personal priorities for a child’s education to determine the curriculum for all students. Relying on individual viewpoints as much as knowledge based on research and experience leads to further confusion between faith and science, memory with history, and dogmatism with truth. Second, the unwillingness to provide students with material appropriate to the topic and developed by experts to introduce them to new ideas limits their ability to evaluate sources for reliability and accuracy. Furthermore, confronting evidence-based material that challenges one’s experience and presents different perspectives is essential to developing citizens who are able to harness information from diverse sources to better solve society’s problems.

Like fascism’s promotion of the ideal and wholly fabricated Italian race, Florida’s systematic resolutions aim to mold students into a very small part of our country’s population. I don’t think the actions of the DeSantis administration amount to Italian fascism under Mussolini, but there are very real and very serious parallels. DeSantis’ continued efforts to focus power and perspective to “protect” Floridians from uncomfortable or simply different ways of thinking have the potential to further erode the principles of open debate and collective responsibility that underpin democracy.

However, focusing only on Florida and DeSantis means ignoring a larger problem in American public education. We should not stop at simply denouncing DeSantis’ efforts as “fascist”; To do this it avoids their local roots and minimizes their full danger. from Chronic underfunding to public school systems to Ban hard books to Oversimplification From our national past, Florida legislation represents only the most recent legislation long history From attempts to disparage knowledge, to mock academic research for its own sake, and to discourage intellectual curiosity in our children and the American public. As a nation, we overemphasize the role of public education in training students to become “successful”—defined in economic terms—and neglect to create a community of informed citizens with critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Being part of a democratic republic that embraces our pluralistic society requires diverse perspectives and an educated assessment. To avoid disagreement, the argument and upset that Florida’s new laws require will not only hinder our children’s ability to evaluate and articulate arguments, but also from seeing our world as it is. In the end, this is the greatest danger, whether we call it fascism or not.

This is an article of opinion and analysis, and the opinions expressed by the author or authors are not necessarily opinions Scientific American.