Tampa Bay Times: Bill to Require "America" in Schools Gets a House Sponsor

Originally published at the Tampa Bay Times.

An effort to require students in Florida public schools to watch a controversial documentary by conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza gained ground this week with the support of a state House member.

Rep. Neil Combee, a Lakeland Republican, filed a bill seeking to mandate that all eighth- and 11th-grade students view the film America: Imagine the World Without Her. His legislation is identical to a measure filed by Sen. Alan Hays in November.

Hays, a Umatilla Republican, received heavy criticism that he was foisting propaganda on children when he announced his plan. But legislation in just one chamber doesn’t go far.

Its appearance in the House could give it wings, although some key lawmakers have suggested the proposal overreaches by being too prescriptive.

“Not to say the Legislature shouldn’t create objectives” for schools, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg said. “But how to get there and what to teach to get there is not something the Legislature needs to engage in.”

Hays made similar arguments last year when attempting to end the state’s role in adopting school textbooks. But in this case, he argued, parents would have control by having the ability to opt out of the showing if they’re opposed to the film.

When he first began watching the film, Hays said he was flabbergasted: The narrator “was interviewing those who were espousing what I consider anti-American views.”

By the time the documentary ended 105 minutes later, he had a completely different thought.

“I looked at my wife and I said, ‘Every student in America needs to see this movie.’ ” Hays praised its message of American exceptionalism.

In Florida, pieces of legislation — no matter how weighty or trivial — have little chance of adoption without a companion in the opposite chamber. So even while critics vilified Hays’ bill, they knew it wouldn’t stand on its own.

Combee’s bill changes that.

“Sen. Hays asked me if I would sponsor it in the House,” Combee said. “I saw the movie when it first came out. I thought it was very good. I don’t see any harm in showing it in schools.”

There are others who do.

Peter Montgomery of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way wrote about the proposal, which appears to be the only one of its kind in the nation, on his organization’s blog. He called it a terrible idea.

The movie is filled with “offensive and inflammatory material that could cause a lot of problems in the classroom,” Montgomery said, calling it a political diatribe aimed at hurting Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In the film, D’Souza aims to discredit what he considers the philosophy of left-wing progressive Democratic politics, taught in schools, that the U.S. society is based on theft and plunder. He says he wants to debunk the arguments.

D’Souza argues, for instance, that American Indians couldn’t adhere to treaties and were killing one another anyway.

On the subject of slavery, he writes in his book of the same name: “Did America owe something to the slaves whose labor had been stolen?” Yes, he states, but “that debt . . . is best discharged through memory, because the slaves are dead and their descendants are better off as a consequence of their ancestors being hauled from Africa to America.”

D’Souza did not respond to an email request for comment.

Said Montgomery: “Even if the movie were credible, it’s not a great idea to have legislators dictate what goes on in the classroom.”

That’s a point educators often make when confronted with new rounds of legislative mandates that eat up classroom time.

Hays made a similar argument with his textbook bill last year. The senator said leaders in some districts claimed they had no control over book selection because the Florida Department of Education had approved the materials.

Some conservative groups challenged the books because of their references to Islam. Hays, no stranger to such controversies, jumped in with his bill — now law — granting more local control over instructional materials.

He acknowledged the seeming contradiction between his textbook bill and the movie legislation, but said they’re not really different in their approach.

“The overriding thing behind the instructional materials bill was to force local control. I wanted to put more control in the hands of the community,” he said. “This (movie) bill does exactly that. It goes even further and puts control in the hands of the parents” by allowing them to opt out.

Legg expressed reluctance to move forward with such a concept. But he wouldn’t say “never” to the bill’s chances.

Hays urged doubters to do more than read critics’ reviews before taking sides.

Read more at the Tampa Bay Times.


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Keep reading:

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  • Patricia says:

    December 19, 2014 at 9:41 AM

    I’m constantly astounded that I’ve got the ability to watch hundreds of TV stations (I have the Premiere Package from Directv), yet I cannot find good programming for documentary movies or Christian themed shows. I have better luck finding this subject matter on YouTube!!! That’s sad, seeing that I get more than a dozen stations that proclaim to be related to Christian viewing! I get a magazine from AFA each month that lists the Christian movies that I can buy on DVD, but when I go to those Christian networks and search for the titles, they’re never there. I’ve written to several of the larger viewed Christian networks and asked why they don’t show these movies, and they haven’t ever answered with a courtesy response, which makes me suspicious of them to begin with. I had to pay $7.99 to watch your video “American” on Directv and then it was a TWO DAY RENTAL! So, I had to invite my neighbors and friends to come on those two days to view it. Fortunately, I was hosting two college kids for the Thanksgiving holiday and I suggested they watch it. You could see their disdained look on their faces, but they were caught up in having to be polite to their hostess. A few minutes into the movie, they were inching closer and closer to the TV screen and becoming “wide-eyed.” If only I could have put it in the hands of some of their college buddies. Or, their “youth group” at their church! If I had 50 videos, I could have sent them out as Christmas gifts, but most of the people that I am friends with are already conservative thinkers, so I wouldn’t have reached the target audience. It’s great to hear that legislation is being proposed to include the movie in the student curriculum, but that might take years, as you know the leftist groups will fight it tooth and nail!
    Those are my thoughts! I hope you can make something from them

  • CarolS says:

    December 21, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    If Peter Montgomery is so worried this might discredit Hillary and Obama, maybe he needs to rethink their stand on things because they sure are NOT true Americans and neither are the 40+ in Congress who are members of the communist party. Why are they allowed to be in a political office when they are taking an oath to two parties with conflicting goals (?) I haven’t seen this movie yet but am going to get it soon when my finances settle down. I hope and pray more schools will take it upon themselves to show this to their students so the criminal indoctrination that is going on now can be squelched and our kids can grow up to be proud of this wonderful country. Thank you Mr D-Souza and God bless you

  • williamC says:

    December 21, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    They don’t teach this in the schools any more. It’s all propaganda when it comes to history. And as for Civics, are there any schools still teaching that, and emphasizing the Constitution and its real meaning?

  • M. Donach says:

    January 3, 2015 at 12:50 AM

    Finally, we can begin teaching our children again about the pride all Americans should have in our country. Dinesh is an American hero who has stood up to the negative anti-American rhetoric this president has dumped on Americans since he has been in office. The left tells their own history story picking out and distorting facts because they are anti-American. Schools should also teach about the white Irish/English slaves and the horrors of the Barbary and Mediterranean slave trade. This movie brought tears to my eyes. Every American school should be required to show this to students.