The Student Movement


Ron’s Gone Wrong: The Implications of the Stop W.O.K.E. Act

Bella Hamann

Photo by Public Domain

https://www.cnn.com/2023/01/23/politics/ron-desantis-florida-ap-african-american-studies/index.htmlIf irony was ketchup, we’d all be eating French fries.

This was one of the first thoughts to cross my mind as I was reading up on the most recent news involving the current governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. Known for being a potential GOP presidential candidate in the upcoming 2024 election, DeSantis has been involved in Florida state politics for over a decade and has held his current executive position since 2019. Since his election, DeSantis has been active in ensuring economic growth within Florida, has supported some environmental regulation, and has even advocated for financial literacy courses to be taught in schools.

However, DeSantis has also been the forerunner of various governmental decisions that not only sparked statewide discussion, but national inquiry as well. Some of the legislation that he has supported include HB 5 (which bans abortions in Florida after 15 weeks and was signed into law at an evangelical rally in Kissimmee); SB 1028 (which bans transgender women and girls from participating in select sports’ competitions at both high school and college levels in the state); HB 1557 (more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill); and HB 7/SB 148, or the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act.”

To further understand the implications of such types of legislation —specifically, the latest implications of the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act”— it is fitting to have both an understanding of what the legislation entails as well as proper knowledge of a recent event in Florida that the state’s department of education claims is a “vehicle for a political agenda.”

Firstly, the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” (HB 7) was signed into law on April 22, 2022. The title of the bill is a play on the slang term ‘woke,’ which is usually associated with being aware of social prejudice and discrimination. In the bill, however, W.O.K.E. is an acronym, and it stands for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.” This bill contains an extensive list of prohibited concepts and topics that cannot be taught or learned in educational settings. Some of these concepts are ideologies suggesting that one race is superior to another, that individuals are inherently racist in regard to their background, that morals in and of themselves are determined by racial background, and the list goes on. Of course, these ideologies in practice are abhorrent and should not be implemented in any circumstance, ever. That being said, by signing into law that which can and cannot be discussed, HB 7 demonstrates how blatantly avoiding addressing how and why abhorrent things in recent years still happen —such as the harsh reality of an increase and acceptance of white supremacy ideologies— is to deny that they exist at all. How can something exist if it is unknown?   

The truth of the matter is, these harsh realities do exist. And because they still do, they need to be talked about. In the case of Florida educators and collaborators attempting to do so, the outcome resulted in a rejection.

The rejection in question was that of a trial run of an AP course in African American Studies, created by academics who collaborated with the College Board, a well-known organization who not only develops AP courses, but also develops standardized tests, such as the SAT. This implies that the scope and influence of the College Board is both expansive and quite impartial on a political level. If the organization were politically biased, it would make sense for them to pick and choose which states to offer their services, since as a nonprofit they would have the ability to do so. Hence, it is not necessarily an alarming situation for an AP course to be created and/or introduced, since it is nationally commonplace and happens simultaneously in different states. This reality disproves the notion that the African American Studies course is—specifically in Florida—imposing an agenda on students in the attempt to utilize school curriculum for political purposes.

So, what exactly was in the curriculum that was considered a violation of the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act”? In its syllabus, the goal of the course is to “examine the diversity of African American experiences through direct encounters with authentic and varied sources.” This being the desired outcome of a class of this nature, one can only assume that the information covered throughout its instruction is extensive and spans quite a lot of material and viewpoints, seeing as African American culture and history is, in and of itself, expansive and diverse. So again, not a surprising outcome in terms of content. 

Although the academics who helped create the subject were adamantly insistent that there was “nothing particularly ideological” about it, many broad topics of this AP course were addressed by the Florida Department of Education as unacceptable, including the concepts/subjects of reparation, Black Lives Matter, and “abolishing prisons,” just to name a few. However, one specific topic came under fire, entailing only a hundredth of all the subject matters discussed in the course, and that was the subject regarding Black Queer Studies.

Said DeSantis during a press conference in January: “(The course is) a political agenda…when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.” Additionally, DeSantis remarked in a broad connotation at the beginning of this year that “We (Florida) reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy…we will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where the woke goes to die.”
This viewpoint in itself is one of the most ironic parts of the entire situation. By claiming to reject an ideology in favor of what DeSantis claims as normalcy, Florida, by default, became the very thing they swore to destroy: a vehicle for a political agenda.

There is a fine line between what should be personal opinion and what should be public policy, and in Florida, this line does not seem to exist. It is absolutely okay to have differing opinions; however, simply because opinions are different—especially if historical context is involved—this not make it excusable to censor discussion on what may be disagreeable. This censorship prohibits the expansion of knowledge and inhibits critical thinking skills in the wide array of social and cultural issues that the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” and others like it may address. Not only does this act hinder educational progress in Florida, but it also hinders social progress with various demographics such as ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, because the impact of a lack of access to knowledge is, ultimately, a lack of concrete and substantial change.

Legislation and legalities, burgers and fries, bread and circuses. At the end of the day, it could be supposed by some that as long as we live in blissful ignorance of what is happening around us, nothing will ever need to change or even be mentioned, because we would all be asleep to its occurring. Each one of us has a choice to make with what we decide to discover; and I, for one, refuse to live in a lie, and will be very much awake, on the go, and ironically using ketchup.

The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.