Here is Praveena Somasundaram and Hannah Natanson at The Washington Post:
Florida will no longer allow a sociology course to count toward students’ graduation requirements at state universities, replacing it with a class that officials say will teach “factual history” in a decision critics say was fueled by political motivations.
The 17-member Florida Board of Governors, which oversees public universities in the state, on Wednesday removed a “Principles of Sociology” class from its list of approved core course options, despite outcry from some sociology professors. The board replaced the sociology requirement with a course called “Introductory Survey to 1877,” which members said will provide a “historically accurate account of America’s founding, the horrors of slavery, the resulting Civil War, and the Reconstruction Era.”
When asked about the change, a spokesperson for Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. referred The Washington Post to a December tweet in which he claimed sociology had been “hijacked by left-wing activists and no longer serves its intended purpose.”
State universities, he added in the tweet, would “focus on preparing students for high-demand, high-wage jobs, not woke ideology.”
The American Sociological Association said in a statement Thursday that it was “outraged” by the change, which it argued stemmed from “a gross misunderstanding of sociology as an illegitimate discipline driven by ‘radical’ and ‘woke’ ideology.” The organization, which had previously written a public comment against the change, urged the Florida Board of Governors to reinstate sociology as a core course, saying the subject is “at the core of civic literacy.”
“Failure to prioritize the scientific study of the causes and consequences of human behavior is a failure of Florida’s commitment to providing high-quality civics education and workforce readiness,” the American Sociological Association said.
Most of the Board of Governors’ 17 members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate to serve seven-year terms. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed a majority of the current board members.
Read the rest here.
There is so much going on in this story.
First, we have the “anti-woke” angle. The removal of sociology is part of Ron DeSantis’s larger agenda to rid Florida’s public schools of courses that challenge students to think deeply about race, class, gender, family, and other topics that are usually part of an introduction to sociology class. Why is Florida’s government so afraid of sociology? It is an essential subject in the liberal arts curriculum.
Second, one can learn about race, class, gender, the family, etc. in an American history class. I realize I am biased here, and I do not want to disparage my friends in sociology, but the study of history addresses all of these issues. And if we really believe that the past informs the present, then addressing these issues historically can still do some of the work of the canceled sociology course.
Third, what in the world does the Florida government mean by a “factual history” course? I assume it means that they want professors to teach facts without interpretation. Or maybe they want some kind of celebratory history that does not talk about the darker moments of American history. (For example, holding up the founding fathers on a moral pedestal without discussing their implication in slavery or white supremacy). If this is indeed the case, then the proposed “Introduction Survey to 1877” course is not a history course.
I am also guessing that by choosing to require a course on the early years of the American republic, the Florida Board of Governors want to stay away from the post-1877 world of segregation, lynching, Jim Crow, the civil rights struggle, Black power, LGBTQ issues, etc. By ending the course in 1877 they hope that this required course might leave the students with the impression that racism and injustice in the United States was somehow solved by the Civil War and the subsequent 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. But any good historian will cover the latter years of Reconstruction as well–Southern redemption, the KKK, and the U.S. abandonment of this Reconstruction project. This might also be the reason why the Board of Governors fear sociology–it is too presentist, and thus more dangerous.
Moreover, who is going to teach this course? Why not just get the football coach to come into the lecture hall and read a timeline to the students? Why not have the students just memorize the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights? I’ve been teaching a U.S. survey course to 1877 for the last thirty years. Every lecture I deliver is grounded in an interpretation of the past. The textbook I assign is an interpretation of the events that happened during this period of American history. We read and discuss primary sources. We talk about context, contingency, causation, change over time, and the complexity of the human experience. We talk about race, gender, slavery, social class, politics, and religion. Do we talk about facts? Yes. But if we only talk about facts we are antiquarians, not historians.
Let’s face it, the Florida decision bodes well bodes well for historians. (Of course it does not bode well for sociologists). I am assuming that Florida may need to hire more people to teach these required courses.