MidPoint: Classic New College or New New College?

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The DeSantis Dept. of Education is developing a “Classical and Christian” alternative to the SAT test for all 11th graders in Florida. Yesterday, Governor DeSantis approved HB1537, a massive education bill that mandates, among other things, that by the 2023-2024 school year, each school district in Florida select either the SAT, ACT, or the “Classic Learning Test” to be administered in 11th grade. The Dept. of Education is also rejecting social studies textbooks for being “woke,” and completely altering the academic curricula and campus priorities at New College of Florida & other public universities. Tampa New College alum and one-time Classics major, attorney Matt Newton, and New College alumna, Naomi Campa, now an Asst. Prof. of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin both joined us on MidPoint to talk about the “Classic New College,” the “New New College” and the “Classics” and what these changes may mean for New College and for education in our state.

Remaking New College in the image of Hillsdale College

The Classic Learning Test was created on the premise that traditional standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT have become “increasingly ideological.” It was developed by Classic Learning Initiatives and Jeremy Tate to follow the “great classical and Christian tradition.” However, As of April 2023, only 5% of the 3,931 colleges and universities in the United States accept CLT scores. They are primarily schools with a religious focus and New College of Florida is soon to be added to that list. DeSantis has been very open about his desire to remake New College of Florida into a version of the Michigan-based, right-wing, Christian, Hillsdale College. Our guests considered this misguided co-optation of the study of the Classics to be a sad byproduct of this effort.

Prof. Campa noted that there are no sample tests available on the CLI website, so it is difficult to assess what these tests will address. No doubt tax-payer funds will be spent to prepare students for the test in districts where it is adopted. But to understand the larger political context of this effort to prioritize a “Christian and Classical” education in Florida, Newton pointed us to Pharos. Pharos is a website written and published online at Vassar College, where classical scholars, students, and the public more broadly, can learn about appropriations of Greco-Roman antiquity by hate groups, and right-wing political commentators like Steve Bannon. Newton believes the use of government funds and sponsorship of a Christian religious-based test in a public school system is a violation of the First Amendment.

A school for “Nerds and Geeks, not Jocks and Greeks”

It has also been reported that New College is being given large grants of tax-payer funding in next year’s budget to develop a sports program, currently focused on baseball, the college sport played by Governor DeSantis, and for the development of fraternities and sororities on campus. Many of our WMNF listeners who joined the conversation were New College alumni. They deplored the transformation of their school from “Classic New College” to “New New College,” and from a school of “Nerds and Geeks” to a school of “Jocks and Greeks.”

You can listen to the show here, on the WMNF app, or as a WMNF MidPoint podcast, wherever you get your podcasts.

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