FL HB999 or, Guess We Had a Good Run, America

Look, it’s Florida House Bill 999, a festering, inflamed pustule on the body politic of The Great State of Snowbirds, Twelve-Lane Highways, Murderous Wildlife, and Exception. It was introduced yesterday with great fanfare in The Sunshine Apparently Isn’t Always a Great Disinfectant State, and with a catchy title:

Technically that entire thing is the title. If they’re taking suggestions for shorter, more memorable alternatives, maybe they could go with the Florida Understands the Correct Knowledge Inculcation Necessary for Government to Massacre Education in the Sunshine State Act. You make the acronym. (Leave off Act.)

It’s all there in the title, but we should look at a few highlights in the FUCKINGMESS Act. (Oops I made the acronym for you.) Shall we? No, you first.

This part is a masterpiece of bigotry and incoherence. “[…] a curriculum that teaches identity politics, such as Critical Race Theory, or defines American history as contrary to the creation of a new nation based on,” &c.? These people want to tell other people what they can teach when they can’t even be relied on to construct a sentence that doesn’t collapse in a gentle warm breeze such as you might find on the shell-strewn beaches of Sanibel? But the bigotry somehow shines through like blazing, myeloma-encouraging sunshine through a thin, sticky coat of Hawaiian Tropic.

Instead, the bill goes on to say, gen ed courses should eschew “theoretical” or “exploratory” content in favor of “traditional, historically accurate, and high quality” coursework. (Again, make it make sense, these sentences! Make the adjectives appropriate to the nouns!) Why? How else are we going to “preserve the constitutional republic”? I mean really, how else? (Also, fuck democracy, we’re not a democracy, someone else can brainwash the kids to preserve that.)

I think everybody knows that the only antidote to the crap being peddled by the Rootless Cosmopolitan Globalist Cultural Marxist instructors raking in almost nothing to teach the Children Who Are the Future of Florida (no acronym there) is a burning, puts-hair-on-your-chest Tito’s Vodka (or what’s Sammy Hagar’s tequila called–Cabo Wabo? Don’t make me look it up)-like shot of Entrepreneurial Vision, though good luck getting any of them to pronounce that first word correctly, not that I can half the time either. Trot out some Exceptional Individuals; they will Highlight the Possibilities. And for God’s sake don’t interact with experts from government, politics, policy, and journalism on a frequent basis or any-other-level-of-recurrence basis. No experts, please, people. What are universities for, manufacturing expertise? What are we, a goddamn democracy?

As John Dewey, Thorsten Veblen, James Cattell, and other early proponents of shoring up faculty governance at institutions of higher education argued, these institutions ought to be run like democracies. Cattell came right out and said it 110 years ago: “The university should be a democracy of scholars serving the larger democracy of which it is part” [sic, it’s a constitutional republic, you dumb bunny]. But as Ron DeSantis, sponsoring representative Alex Andrade, Head Architect of Motivelessly Malign Education Reform (ooh! Tom DeLay will be jealous if that catches on, unless he’s dead) Christopher Rufo, and all of the others skipping gaily down this path that Betsy DeVos so boldly blazed would respond, Make us. That is, faculty governance might be for democracies, but hiring is for the Captains of Industry (or junk bonds, whatever) populating boards these days (and in Veblen’s time, when he called them Captains of Erudition). The bill (as the two-page title hints) is full of exciting opportunities for hiring and don’t let’s forget firing to be taken out of the hands of the people who are qualified to judge scholarship and teaching in their disciplines and put into the meaty mitts of the Captains. After all, if we want to smother Woke in its sleep, keeping it from saying Gay or Actually it’s really hate, not heritage, we have to run these places like the tight ships that we know all entrepreneurial enterprises run by the exceptional individuals to be, and cut out the middlemen, unless they’re deans.

So anyway, it was nice while it lasted. American higher ed, American democracy, America, all that. I rewatched the original Rollerball the other night (which holds up as an impossible combination of awesome and awful, by the way), and in its future, America is gone, corporations have divvied up the world and are now running everything and everyone. There’s a part of the film where James Caan gets made fun of by a teammate for wanting to read a book for himself, rather than getting one of the librarians who aren’t really librarians to summarize it for him; he finds out they can’t let him have what he wants because it’s classified but also because the books have all been digitized and are in Geneva on a supercomputer the size of a house that would now fit on your wrist, except it turns out a bunch of them–and so, much of the world’s knowledge–have been lost. It seems it’s not in the interest of the corporations that run the world to have people know things or think about how things are organized and who’s in charge of them and whether any of it should change. No exploratory content for them, thank you very much.

For East Lansing

The thing that does not belong

A student found this on the floor in my classroom a couple of weeks ago and gave it to me. I reported it to campus police, but as I told the officer, I had no reason to suspect a crime had been committed, so there was nothing for anybody to do. I was told I could dispose of it, but I haven’t yet, and this morning I’m sitting at my desk in my office on campus, staring at it and wondering how it is we just keep going about our business.

Book, bullet

Some of the business I’m going about is teaching, and some of that teaching is about the university itself, and that teaching has me thinking about what it means to find a shell casing on the floor of your classroom. We’re talking about Chris Newfield’s Unmaking the Public University tomorrow in my academic novel/Critical University Studies grad seminar. It is a detailed, thorough examination of how the promise of public higher education, made after World War II with the GI Bill and subsequent corrections of its inequities, has been broken over decades by the Right, which would rather not allow education to remake society to be more fair and more just, thank you very much. And they are still at it, pushing bills straight off of the Christopher Rufo Anti-Education Legislation Assembly Line through committees and onto state house floors, bills that would further break the promises of public higher education and public primary and secondary education. And they’re doing this not only through their hold on the purse strings and their waving of the bible but by failing to protect schools from violence.

1967 letter from Reagan to the chancellor of San Francisco State College

This isn’t simply a list of things I’m mad about (for one thing, it would be much longer). The people in power in red states are unmaking the public university–unmaking public education at all levels–because they just don’t value education. The Right is actively working to destroy the public schools and has been defunding and attacking higher education since before Reagan ran for Governor on it. Between “school choice,” faith-based and anti-antiracist attacks on curriculum, and the demonizing of teachers and school boards, the Right is winning its war on K-12 public education. Between defunding, faith-based and anti-antiracist attacks on curriculum, and the demonizing of professors and activist students, it’s winning its war on public higher education. In its failure to confront gun violence–in what can only be seen as its active enabling of widespread access to firearms and hostility to any curbs on what no constitutional scholar worth a shit pretends is an inalienable right–the Right is winning its war on education at all levels. If it’s not safe to go to school anymore, the only equal access left is to guns.