FL Board of Governors removes sociology from core curriculum options
A College Hall classroom. Photo taken by Christine Wehner.

FL Board of Governors removes sociology from core curriculum options

Sociology is no longer an option for Florida post-secondary students seeking to fulfill their general education course requirements. As of Jan. 24, introductory sociology courses cannot be counted for the social science requirement due to the discipline losing favor with the Florida Board of Governors (BOG).  Students enrolled in a university or college are required to take at least one course in the areas of communication, math, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences in order to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Following the BOG’s approval of the revision, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. explained in a tweet that sociology has been “hijacked by left-wing activists and no longer serves its intended purpose as a general knowledge course for students.”

The move has faced national backlash since it was announced, prompting the American Sociological Association (ASA) to release an official statement last November strongly objecting to the course’s removal. On Feb. 1, the ASA published an opinion piece in the Tampa Bay Times, declaring that topics sociologists study — such as improving the population’s access to education, health care, technology and work — are of incredible value to a democratic society and that the delegitimization of sociology as a science has no reason or basis. Members of the ASA proclaimed that the BOG has ignored requests for an evidentiary basis for removing sociology as an option without properly understanding how the subject is taught and studied. 

As described by the ASA, sociology is the study of social life, change and the causes/consequences of human social behavior. Because all human behavior is social, the breadth of the field is wide. Some interest groups under the ASA include aging and the lifecycle, consumers and consumption, crime, knowledge and technology and social dimensions of medicine, among many others. 

Professor of Sociology David Brain described his field as a discipline that has historically studied how people’s lives are influenced by structures of inequality and social difference such as race, class and gender. He elaborated on the ways sociological conclusions are scientifically drawn and discussed through techniques that are qualitative as well as quantitative. He explained that the purpose of these techniques is finding defensible answers to sociological questions, and he stated that the scientific and intellectual integrity of sociology and its methodology has not been reduced by how the field has evolved to encompass more voices. 

Beyond the suppression of sociology as a discipline, the politicization of education in Florida is another concern. “The implication of this move—and the justifying arguments—is that the form and substance of general education should be determined by political officials, in service to both immediate and long term political aims, not by scholars and educators with a genuine commitment to cultivating a well-informed democratic public capable of thinking critically and rigorously about the issues of the day,” Brain said. 

Professor of Sociology Sarah Hernandez commented on the reduction of student choice and the ruling’s impact on class sizes. “This law reduces the options for students in the whole state university system,” Hernandez stated. “I think that’s unfortunate.” 

Alternatively, University of South Florida Professor of Sociology Frank Biafora spoke hopefully about current media attention’s potential to increase student interest in the field. He also hopes to see universities reflect support for sociology through their curricula.

“It is important to remember that while the State of Florida determines one-half of the 36-credit-hour core, the institutions themselves get to pick the other half,” Biafora explained in an email interview with the Catalyst.

The removal of sociology from general education requirement options is only the latest addition to several “anti-woke” moves in Florida education. On Apr. 22, 2022, Governor Ron Desantis approved House Bill 7, formally signing into Florida law the Individual Freedom Act or Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act, abbreviated as the Stop WOKE Act. This bill was brought forward to regulate the content of what is taught in schools and workplaces, including a prohibition on addressing shared responsibility for actions in history based on race, sex or nationality. This act took effect on July 1, 2022, and has been the law in Florida for 18 months. In the context of Florida education, the Stop WOKE Act is the first in the nation to codify the prohibition of teaching critical race theory in K-12 schools. 

“We are prioritizing education, not indoctrination,” Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunesz stated. “We will always fight to protect our children and parents from this Marxist-inspired curriculum.”

The act has since been challenged in federal court. While on the committee to review the act in Pernell v. Florida Board of Governors (2022), a federal district court judge went so far as to call the legislation dystopian. 

“The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” Judge Mark Walker observed. “Defendants argue that, under this act, professors enjoy ‘academic freedom’ so long as they express only those viewpoints of which the state approves. This is positively dystopian.” 

New College President Richard Corcoran, who was Florida Commissioner of Education at the time, showed approval for Governor DeSantis’ perspective on what is appropriate discussion in public education following the release of the Stop WOKE Act. 

“I am grateful that Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature have taken a stand against discrimination, especially against revisionist history and ideological concepts that are outside Florida’s academic standards,” a state news release quoted Corcoran as saying. “These dangerous concepts seek to divide Americans, rather than unite them.” 

On the topic of revisionist history, Hernandez commented that a nation’s history is constantly reinterpreted by those who live through it.

“To call others speaking up and saying ‘that was not my experience’ revisionist is interesting, to say the least,” Hernandez stated. “To use the state power to deny different interpretations of history … silences the voice of many people and many different perspectives in history. Anybody seriously learning history at the college level will understand that historiography is a complex process.”

Hernandez also commented that although one should want to bring up concepts that allow people to come together when building a nation, a problem occurs when the vision of coming together is at the cost of others’ voices. 

“We have and can be a united society recognizing there are many differences and beautiful diversity in the world we’re living in,” Hernandez said. “If we deny that diversity just by the fact that there’s many people from different perspectives and call that a division and divisive, then what we’re saying is the only way to become American is to be assimilated into one culture, one worldview, one language, one existence. If we do that, the question is whose culture, whose language, whose kind of existence are we forcing everybody else into?” 

The sociology course requirement option has been replaced with a course on American history called United States to 1877, which will cover the development of the United States from its colonial beginnings to the Reconstruction era.

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