Fascism’s History Offers Lessons about Today’s Attacks on Education

Public education has long been a battlefield in the U.S., from the Scopes trial to desegregation to climate change. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent demands for greater control over public education—and students’ bodies—in the guise of “parent’s rights” accelerates this conflict, rejecting the importance of learning as a public good in itself in favor of promoting conformity and uncritical thinking.
As a historian of fascism and Italian fascist education, I find the moves to exert more power over education disturbingly familiar. Even ignoring the obvious harm DeSantis’s campaign inflicts on Florida’s students—already detailed by numerous experts—the effort to constrict the information available to students mirrors fascist ambitions in important ways and threatens the very democratic foundations its proponents claim to champion.

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