The saying made famous by influential philosopher and essayist George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” has, itself, been repeated for more than a century. However, it is hard to see these words as anything less than prophetic when looking at the current state of civil rights in the United States.
During recent years, people of color, women, people with uteruses, and queer and transgender people have had their rights systemically stripped away, but these attacks are nothing new. This is not the first time queer people have been cast as groomers. This is not the first time that pro-slavery arguments have made their way into the education system. And this is not the first time that the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses has been challenged by people without them.
No, this has all happened before, and there are powerful people doing everything they can to ensure that it will happen again. When the Desantises, and Trumps and Santoses are gone, it will be the younger generation’s turn to lead. This is exactly why there has been such a largescale attack on the American education system: if the people in power control what we learn, they can control what we think.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the recent decisions made by the Florida State Board of Education. The Board has banned a misconstrued and warped version of critical race theory and rejected the proposal to teach AP African American Studies in high schools. Just recently, it approved standards that would, amongst other things, require teachers to explain that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit”. It has prohibited teachers from using students’ preferred pronouns, and it has effectively banned AP Psychology by requiring content relating to sexuality and gender be removed, which would prevent the course from receiving AP credit, though this decision has been reversed. These recent decisions have all been made in an attempt to teach children about a world that doesn’t exist.
The Board wants students to believe in a world where slavery is justified. They want students to live in a world where queer and transgender people don’t exist, and when they do, they shouldn’t. Instilling these values in children from a young age creates adults who are resistant to change and who will carry on the fight of those before them – the fight against the human rights of those who deviate from the white, Christian, straight and cisgender majority.
There has been a great focus in public discourse on “protecting children,” but that is all a lie. To protect children, we should be teaching them about the horrors of this country’s history so that they know it should never happen again. We should be teaching queer and transgender kids that they aren’t alone, that the world is filled with so many colorful people like them and they have nothing to be ashamed of. The Florida State Board of Education isn’t protecting kids. They are protecting themselves and all the people in power who have benefitted from the suffering of others.