A Psychologist’s Take on DeSantis Removal of AP Psych—It’s a Power Play

Not content with dictating history curriculums, Ron DeSantis has turned his eye to social sciences, and based on the new standards set by his anti-woke agenda, it’s looking like AP Psychology will no longer be deemed a suitable topic for high schoolers.

DeSantis’s Department of Education recently informed the College Board that AP Psychology content regarding gender and sexuality violates Florida’s recently passed House Bill 1069, which states that anything regarding gender or sexual orientation must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” and demanded that this material be removed from AP Psychology courses. The College Board responded that it is impossible to effectively teach psychology under these restrictions, and that HB 1069 constitutes an effective ban.

Tense efforts to ameliorate the situation ensued. Florida education commissioner Manny Diaz claims Florida teachers are free to teach AP Psych “in its entirety,” so long as it is done in a way that is “appropriate.” Despite requests to clarify or define what is meant by “appropriate,” the Florida government remains silent, and many Florida schools are canceling AP Psychology, with some switching instead to courses that capitulate to the Florida government’s demands.

Though claiming he’s “protecting the children,” DeSantis has effectively used vague legal standards to restrict scientific and educational viewpoints that he doesn’t like—and in doing so, he has effectively barred the proper teaching of psychology from Florida high schools.

Because psychology is one of the most popular college majors (and one of the least regretted post-graduation), AP Psych is in high demand for high school students seeking to earn college credit. According to the College Board, AP Exams must cover the same material as an introductory psychology college course to count towards a student’s total credits. To comply with HB 1069 standards, the course curriculum would need to remove discussions of topics which are foundational to the discipline itself.

Psychology—the study of human thought, emotion, and behavior—is a multifaceted STEM field, based upon the scientific method and rigorous statistical analysis. It is also impossible to teach, learn, or practice without addressing issues of gender and sexuality.

While psychology does address these topics by themselves, these issues are also inseparably woven into the broader discipline and sub-disciplines. Fundamental psychological topics are influenced by gender and sexuality, from topics of prejudices and stereotypes like homophobia and sexism, to issues of mental health which are affected by perceived success or failure to conform to gender norms. Even phenomena like responses to terrorism and jury decision-making involve discussion of gender effects.

To cut these discussions from a psychology class would be like cutting discussion of sexual reproduction from biology. (Then again, given the bill’s restrictions on sex education, that’s not an impossible scenario.)

If discussions of gender and sexuality are “inappropriate,” HB 1069 does make it impossible to effectively teach AP Psychology, because it restricts the ability to teach fundamental elements of cognitive, social, clinical, and personality psychology, all of which are necessary parts of any introductory college course.

It is the parents, not the governor, who should decide if the subject is “appropriate” for their kids. Nanny-state policies like HB 1069 betray the Florida governor’s parents-first platform.

However, to Florida’s government, the actual educational material matters less than the consolidation of power. In HB 1069, DeSantis has done the exact thing he accuses the Left of doing by sacrificing children’s education on the altar of agenda. By using a vague law to suppress ideas which his constituents dislike, he gains power and support.

This is typical of the New Right’s philosophy of utilizing government power to punish dissent. However, increasing the government’s ability to indiscriminately wield power is antithetical to either parent empowerment or student education, no matter how much those appeals are made in HB 1069. It is also an affront to the principles of responsible and limited government.

Advocates for parental rights in education—especially on the Right—might be tempted to defend DeSantis, or at least give him a pass on this AP Psychology kerfuffle, given his history with issues like school choice. However, it is precisely because of this association that DeSantis must be called to account.

His authoritarian use of legal vagueness appropriates the language of bipartisan causes like school choice while actively opposing those movement’s goals. By setting up the government as the arbitrator of scientific and educational fact and “appropriateness,” DeSantis actively harms students’ ability to learn. This isn’t empowering parents in any meaningful way; it’s simply expanding the power of government in a way that some Florida parents might like at the moment, but that another politician could wield in stark disregard for parents’ wishes.

Given DeSantis’s intent to continue in national politics, those concerned about responsible government and children’s education must make it plain that this authoritarian leadership will not be tolerated.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Aaron Pomerantz, Ph.D.

Dr. Aaron Pomerantz is a social psychologist and researcher in Houston, Texas. His research examines issues of culture, leadership, and responses to threat in politics and society. He can be found on Twitter @pompom9211.

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