Originally posted at News-Press.
Hoping to “balance out” perceived anti-American sentiments of public school history classes, Florida lawmakers have proposed a bill that would require students to watch a controversial patriotic film not once, but twice, before they graduate.
Senate Bill 96 and House Bill 77, filed by Republicans Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Neil Combee, would require all eighth and 11th grade students to watch conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza’s America: Imagine the World Without Her. The bill includes an option for parents to opt-out their children from the film screening.
The film seeks to combat the idea America is a “disgrace” to the world, a message that “is consistently drummed into our young people in our schools and our colleges,” D’Souza said. He said the film analyzes common critiques of the country’s past, like slavery and the treatment of Native Americans, and “zooms in on them to see which parts are true and which are completely false.”
D’Souza, who was born and raised in India before immigrating to the U.S., said he has put together an 80-minute educational version of the film that cut out interviews with political pundits. “It’s all purely historical content now,” he said.
Hays said he filed the bill because he said he believed students in history classes are receiving “erroneous,” negative perspectives about America’s history, policies and influence in the world.
“Frankly, it’s embarrassing that we allow these lies to be taught in our school system,” Hays said. “Unfortunately, our parents and our school board members have not kept up with the misrepresentation of American history that is being perpetrated in our school system, and this movie gives a totally different view.”
Combee said Hays asked for his support in the House on the bill. After watching the movie and talking it over, the Lakeland representative decided “it was the right thing to do.”
Controversy surrounding the film
With a dismal eight percent approval on the film review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, ‘America’ has been criticized by some as offensive, right-wing propaganda.
“His argument boils down to this: History is written by the winners, and everyone else can go suck an egg,” Newsday movie critic Rafer Guzman wrote. “Native Americans decimated by European diseases? ‘It’s not genocide, because genocide implies an intention’ Blacks sold into slavery? Yeah, but lots of countries had slaves … As for Mexicans grousing that the United States took half their land in 1848, aren’t they the ones who keep trying to sneak out of that wretched country?”
D’Souza, who is serving an eight-month sentence in community confinement for campaign finance violations, argued America should be compared to other countries, not “utopian, Garden of Eden” standards – even when considering slavery.
“Christianity came into a world where there was widespread slavery,” D’Souza said. Prohibiting slavery “just wasn’t an option on the table” at the time the Bill of Rights was written, as it never would have gained support for all 13 colonies, he said.
Tom Faasse, history teacher at East Lee County High School, had not seen the film. If the bill were to pass, Faasse said he would try to find other films to show his students a wide range of viewpoints. “We teach our kids to look at all perspectives. Each war has winners and losers,” he said.
Faasse said he didn’t believe there was a “progressive agenda” in curriculum, nor that history classes are fostering anti-American sentiments in young people.
“Particularly the population I teach in East Lee County, a lot of them are first-generation,” he said. “To them, it’s still the land of opportunity. They really do appreciate what this country has done and what it could do for them in the future.”
School board member Steve Teuber believed ‘America’ was an “excellent documentary;” he has seen it twice and even bought 10 copies to hand out to friends. “I would support the bill, and may even propose it for direction in our district.”
Fellow board member Pam LaRiviere said she believed the movie would be “perfect for an American history class, a civics class,” but said the Legislature did not need to add further mandates for school districts.
“A lot of people who are out there are anti-Common Core, anti-government control, but they’re totally behind this bill because they like the message (of the movie),” she said. “But people need to decide: do you want the state Legislature to tell us what to do, or do you want each county, each school district to makes its own decisions?”
School board members Mary Fischer, Cathleen Morgan and Jeanne Dozier did not respond to request for comment.
Matt Worley, at-large director for the Libertarian Party of Florida, called the bill the “height of hypocrisy.”
“How can you rage against Common Core forcing teachers to follow geographically-broad curriculum, and then support this?” he asked.
Hays, however, remained confident his bill will be successful. He said he plans to host a screening of the film for his legislative colleagues on Feb. 11.
“I wish that the movie weren’t necessary, but I think that I can do everything to make sure it’s shown,” he said.
The annual legislative session begins March 3.
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