In the cartoon above depicting H.B. 233, students hide behind “shields” under the pretense of free speech, while their teacher ends up being censored due to students’ ability to record lectures. (Sarah Scherkenbach)
In the cartoon above depicting H.B. 233, students hide behind “shields” under the pretense of free speech, while their teacher ends up being censored due to students’ ability to record lectures.

Sarah Scherkenbach

Breaking down the Florida Reporting and Ideological Survey Bill (H.B. 233)

October 25, 2021

A college professor enters a lecture hall full of young minds, ready to teach. After projecting their materials, they walk up to a podium staged in the center front, but as they open their mouth to begin, they notice a sea of cameras and video recorders blinking back at them.

Due to the Florida Reporting and Ideological Survey Bill (House Bill 233), which became effective starting July 1, 2021, the professor’s lecture hall experience can become the new standard for public higher education in Florida. The bill requires “the State Board of Education and the Board of Governors, respectively, to annually assess intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity at certain institutions” and prohibits them “from shielding certain students, faculty, or staff from certain speech.”

Besides controlling “access to viewpoint diversity,” the bill allows students at these institutions to record video/audio of classrooms for “personal educational use.” These recordings may not be published without the lecturer’s consent, but does this seem enough as a safeguard?

Governor DeSantis, who signed the bill into law on June 22, argues that H.B. 233 prevents an “intellectually repressive environment” on college campuses. The irony, however, is that he actually represses ideas through H.B. 233 because bias claims are easy to abuse; if a student is biased against a particular teacher and reports them, there are few options for teachers to defend themselves.

It reminds me, to some extent, of when Dr. Greg Patton, a professor at University of Southern California, took leave in 2020 after saying 那个 (pronounced nèi ge (NAY-guh) or nà ge (NAH-guh)), which is a Mandarin filler word that directly translates to “that” and is used similarly to how English speakers say “um” or “like.” Patton was explaining how filler words/pauses are used in various languages and cultures, but students noticed how similar it sounds to the n-word and brought a recording of this lecture to the university’s attention.

The video then made its way online, though, sparking a nationwide controversy. Of course, the n-word is not acceptable to say and we must be sensitive towards other people’s feelings, but within this context, Patton was not saying nor trying to say the racial slur. Despite these circumstances, he was painted as a racist, which impacted his career as an educator.

If a teacher is too afraid to present a specific idea or point of view on the chance of it upsetting someone, they would not be able to effectively teach. In history classes especially, different lenses of interpretation can easily offend someone, but it is crucial to get a well-rounded view of our past regardless of feelings.

If teachers remove or brush over parts of a curriculum because it might not seem bipartisan, they choose to rewrite history for the sake of people’s feelings, and the truth gets “shielded.” While this shielding isn’t from a physical danger, it is dangerous to disregard the full truths and complexities that our past is comprised of.

Due to limited time throughout the year and lots of material to cover, teachers sometimes must cut certain lessons to focus on others. For instance, a history professor may skip over or only lightly discuss a period or historical event depending on its relevance to the class. Would this classify as limiting access?

Additionally, perhaps a student may perceive a lack of “viewpoint diversity” within their classes because they have not chosen to take the classes that would engage them in said diversity, or they simply don’t recognize the diversity they are exposed to.

Many Bolles graduates go on to study at higher education institutions in Florida, so this law will be consequential to the future classroom experience students are currently working so hard to get to. If professors leave, get fired, or can’t present the various facets to an issue out of anxiety due to H.B. 233, it shifts the entire educational system towards one made of government regulations.

Good professors want to teach their students to think critically, base arguments on facts, have empathy and humility, and be curious about the world. By attempting to silence specific voices and uplift others, all H.B. 233 does is create a larger division between teachers and students, between peers, and between communities.

Sarah Scherkenbach, Co-Editor-in-Chief
Senior Sarah Scherkenbach is Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Bugle for a second year. A self-proclaimed Marvel enthusiast, she also takes pride in her knowledge of Broadway musicals and belongs to the Ravenclaw house in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If she could travel back in time, she would observe the Seneca Falls convention, and she aspires to study journalism or political science in the future.

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