Florida’s education foes resort to ‘horror fiction’
Author Stephen King caused quite a stir last July when he tweeted, “DeSantis signs bill requiring Florida students, professors to register political views with state. I. Can’t. Even.”
Within hours, the post went viral, receiving tons of shares and likes from followers of the “King of Horror.” But what everyone caught up in that Twitter fright-frenzy seemed to forget was that King’s forte isn’t just horror — it’s also fiction.
And like many recent reports circulating about Florida education, King’s alarming tweet did not square with the facts.
Snopes, PolitiFact, VerifyThis, and The Associated Press declared King’s tweet “false,” tracing his (unintentionally) fictional post to a 2021 Salon article that had advanced the narrative. Salon’s editors changed their headline — 13 months later — after fact-checkers exposed the error.
In the end, King deleted the tweet, expressing “regret” and promising “to do better.”
Still, Americans should be alert to false reports about what is happening in Florida. There’s a lot of “horror fiction” being spread these days. Consider:
- Last month, Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC claimed Gov. DeSantis believes “slavery and the aftermath of slavery should not be taught to Florida schoolchildren.” Mitchell later conceded she had been “imprecise” after someone pointed to DeSantis-signed legislation requiring instruction on slavery, abolition, “the vital contributions of African Americans to build and strengthen American society” and “inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances.”
Mitchell’s commentary coincided with DeSantis’ refusal to give state approval to the College Board’s initial draft of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course, over its inclusion of “queer theory,” “intersectionality,” and other content. (The College Board later altered its AP curriculum.)
When White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre sought to characterize this as a sign that DeSantis “wants to block” teaching about Black history, one of Florida’s leading African American “social justice” advocates came to the governor’s defense. “Frankly, I’m against the College Board’s curriculum,” said Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor. “I think it’s trash. It’s not African American history. It is ideology … sub-mediocre propaganda.”
- Last August, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers retweeted a post from an anonymous Twitter account claiming DeSantis had banned a bevy of classic books, including “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When someone pointed out that Florida actually includes “Mockingbird” on its list of recommended readings for 8th graders, Weingarten sheepishly backtracked.
“I should have double checked before I retweeted this list,” she wrote. “My bad.”
In actuality, Florida has removed books with explicit material, including “Gender Queer,” “Flamer,” and “This Book is Gay.” When the governor presented excerpts of these works at a March news conference, most news organizations chose not to run footage of this content.
- Earlier this month, several legislators introduced bills to expand Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which currently prohibits public schools from teaching K-3 students about gender ideology and human sexuality. Even though the word “gay” is absent in the text, critics continue to call this the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Comedian Bill Maher has intimated this moniker shows how out of touch DeSantis’ detractors are. “They called it the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law,” Maher said. “It could have been called the “Let’s do things in schools the way we did five years ago’ law. It really could’ve.”
Despite all the criticism, DeSantis and other leaders seem unshaken by all the misinformation circulating about Florida education. They evidently understand that those who cannot defend the indefensible will often resort to “horror fiction.”
William Mattox is the director of the Marshall Center for Educational Options at The James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, Fla.
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