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Spotlighting communism victims, FL lawmakers want very young kids to learn about communism

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Spotlighting communism victims, FL lawmakers want very young kids to learn about communism

Feb 20, 2024 | 5:21 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
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Spotlighting communism victims, FL lawmakers want very young kids to learn about communism
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Sarasota Republican Rep. James Buchanan speaks about his proposal to extend the instruction of communism to all grade levels during a press conference Feb. 20, 2024, in the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. Photo by Jackie Llanos/Florida Phoenix.

If children don’t learn about the dangers of communism, it will penetrate the U.S. as it did in Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela and other countries. That’s the message Florida lawmakers and people who escaped those countries said Tuesday as they pushed for starting lessons on communism history in kindergarten.

The victims of communism came to Tallahassee Tuesday for a press conference at the Capitol complex Tuesday afternoon. The two proposals they advocated for, SB 1264 and HB 1349, would extend K-12 instruction in public schools on the “atrocities committed in foreign countries under the guidance of communism.” Currently, students learn about communism in Florida public schools starting in seventh grade.

“Last I checked, communism doesn’t check to see how old you are before it infects your community. We should teach everybody about socialism and communism,” said Republican Sen. Jay Collins of Hillsborough County, the sponsor of SB 1264, during the press conference. “If you look to the bill it’s going to be age-appropriate. We’re not trying to indoctrinate anybody. We’re trying to teach the truth. It is that simple.”

Democratic lawmakers have said that the proposals could sow divisions among children. Broward County Democratic Rep. Patricia Williams criticized the House bill last week, saying: “We have several kids who can’t read on grade level, and we want to put something in the classroom to divide them.”

Some members of the public who talked about their experiences with communism during the press conference also spoke in favor of SB 1264, during its Tuesday hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee on Education.

“I am a victim of communism. Since I was seven years old, my father was taken away from me. He was a major general from South Vietnam. He was kept in prison, concentration camp for 17 and a half years. During that time, the communists did torture us, my family, my mom. When we escaped and got caught, my mom was tortured for three months, days and nights,” Michelle Lee Chan said during the press conference.

She also spoke about her journey from Vietnam to the U.S. during the committee hearing. “I believe that it is vital that the future generations learn the truth about life under the tyrannical communist government and always honor the brave soldiers from the United States, South Vietnam, and other allies, who gave so much to protect the ideals of democracy and freedom.”

The Florida Department of Education would make set the standards

During that hearing, senators adopted two amendments proposed by sponsor Collins and approved the bill unanimously. Originally, the governor would have selected members of a task force to develop the curricula for the history of communism, but Collins chose to get rid of the task force altogether. Instead, the Florida Department of Education would have to develop instructional standards that would be taught starting in the 2026-27 school year. The department may seek guidance from victims of communism, according to the amendment.

Although Democratic Sen. Tracie Davis of Duval County voted in favor of SB 1264 on Tuesday, she and other Black Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns about the proposals, citing the controversy around the African American history standards in July, which garnered nationwide criticism for describing slavery as personally beneficial for enslaved people.

“Getting the accuracy and the truth of what we’re teaching and educating is very, very important to me. We had the blunder, and that’s what I’ll call it, when we were dealing with the African American task force, and that I do not want to see here,” Davis said.

The Department of Education and the Florida Department of State also would have to issue recommendations on the creation of a museum on the history of communism, under SB 1264. That doesn’t mean that the state would build a new museum, Collins said during the Tuesday committee meeting.

Additionally, the other amendment senators approved would create The Institute for Freedom in the Americas in Miami Dade College to “preserve the ideals of a free society and promote democracy in the Americas.” Five people — one each chosen by the Senate president and House speaker and three appointed by the governor — would lead the institute tasked with holding workshops, symposiums and conferences open to the public. This is an entirely new addition to the proposal.

The House bill has one more committee hearing

The two main House sponsors, Republican Reps. Chuck Brannan and James Buchanan, said during the press conference their bill expects to be identical to the Senate version after its last committee hearing on Wednesday.

The sponsors of both proposals have also gotten rid of terms in their bills referencing “cultural Marxism” and the Third Reich of Nazi Germany. Democrats had criticized the House proposal during its first committee hearing, including the term “cultural Marxism,”

There are several ways to discuss cultural Marxism and the Florida Phoenix provided some of those terms.

For example, “If you look up the term cultural Marxism, what comes up is the term cultural Marxism refers to a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory, so that’s also concerning to me,” according to Palm Beach Democratic Rep. Katherine Waldron.

Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow with ADL’s Center on Extremism, said in a statement to Florida Phoenix that antisemites also use the term to reinforce their longstanding antisemitic trope that communism is “Jewish.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a report in 2022 about how cultural Marxism threatens the U.S. In it, the think tank states cultural Marxists have infiltrated the country through college campuses and public schools.

Bills to require instruction of communism in schools move in the FL Legislature with some changes

Cuban-American lawmakers such as South Florida Republican Sens. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Bryan Avila joined the press conference and shared their family’s history with communism.

“Teaching children what the implementation of communism looks like is only the beginning, and you have to stop it and nip it in the bud. Because if we don’t do that, here in Florida, and throughout the country, it can penetrate this country and this is it. We don’t have anywhere else to go,” Rodriguez said.

“My parents are from Cuba. They came here with nothing … many of us standing here, we’re all children of people who fled from communist regimes or are victims of communism. So, let’s continue having these conversations with our kids because, unfortunately, socialism is being romanticized everywhere.”