The crisis of education in the United States presents not only a danger to American democracy, but also the ideological and structural foundations blocking the emergence of a fascist state. An unimagined catastrophe characterizes how American education is being shaped by far-right Republican Party politicians. Nowhere is this more evident than in the policies of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is on the forefront of transforming education into a feral propaganda tool for producing what is euphemistically called “patriotic education.” Coercion, conformity, and toxic forms of religious, political, and economic fundamentalism now threaten to destroy education as a democratic public sphere, however weak it may be. Institutions of learning at all levels in the red-states are becoming laboratories for what I term the Nazification of American education, replicating pedagogies of repression that were at work in Germany in the 1930s.

DeSantis has put into place a range of reactionary educational policies. These include banning books and critical race theory, requiring educators sign loyalty oaths, and forcing teachers to post their syllabus’s online. He has also instituted legislation that restricts tenure and allows students to film classes without consent, and much more. DeSantis justifies these acts of repression by claiming that “Florida schools have become socialism factories” and that students at all levels of education should not be subjected to classroom material that would make them uncomfortable, as if the ultimate measure of knowledge and truth is comfort.

Education under the Third Reich offers significant insights into how repressive forms of pedagogy become central to shaping the identities, values, and world views of young people. For Hitler, matters of indoctrination, education, and the shaping of the collective consciousness of young people was an integral element of Nazi rule and politics. As Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, Germany needs an “educational regime [where] young people will learn nothing else but how to think German and act German … And they will never be free again, not in their whole lives.”

Nazi education was designed to mould children rather than educate them. Races deemed “inferior” and “less worthy” were banned from schools while any positive reference to them and their history was expunged from history books and other curricula materials. The Nazi educational system was deeply anti-intellectual and created modes of pedagogy that undermined the ability of students to think for themselves while forcing teachers to indoctrinate students with Nazi ideology.

The model of Nazi Germany’s educational system has a great deal to teach us about the ideologies that produced a society wedded to the related doctrines of racial purity, the banning of books, the suppression of historical memory, ultranationalism, and the cult of the strongman. Under DeSantis, white supremacy, systemic racism, and the indoctrination of youth have the official power of the state on their side. DeSantis attacks youth considered unworthy (LGBTQ youth), embraces lower academic standards, and subjects faculty to political litmus tests through “viewpoint diversity surveys” aimed to “gather evidence” on non-compliant faculty. He also censors books that do not follow his ideological proclivities, forbids teachers to talk about racism, supports textbooks as crucial tools for spreading propaganda to students, and monitors teacher’s classroom actions.

While the times we live in seem dire, it is worthwhile to take heed from Helen Keller who in a letter to Nazi youth stated: “History hasn’t taught you anything if you think you can kill ideas. The tyrants tried to do so often in the past, but the ideas revolted against them and destroyed them.” This is a warning that Americans and Canadians should take seriously before they and their children are no longer are allowed to think critically and act courageously.

Henry A. Giroux holds the McMaster University Chaired Professorship for Scholarship in the Public Interest. His latest book is “Pedagogy of Resistance: Against Manufactured Ignorance” (Bloomsbury 2022).

America is at risk. Rise Up. Turne In. Turn on. RESISTImage by One More Time

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