Last month, the Los Angeles Times had to write a big, fat correction because it screwed up a story about Florida law. La-La Land's paper of record had printed an op-ed by a New York history professor, Jonathan Zimmerman, who squealed like a stuck pig over the language in a law Jeb Bush had signed into law in June.
"The president's brother approved a law," Zimmerman wrote, "barring revisionist history in Florida public schools. 'The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth,' declares Florida's Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush."
Zimmerman's story started an avalanche of criticism aimed at the Sunshine State for the stupid law outlawing "revisionist or postmodernist" viewpoints, as if such a thing were actually possible. History professors around the country got their tweed jackets in a bunch as they sat down to write strongly worded blog postings.
The problem was, Zimmerman's story wasn't true. The prof had failed to notice that he was quoting from an early version of the bill and not from the law that Jeb actually signed.
The law that Jeb did sign was nearly as idiotic, even if it did leave out the buzzwords (revisionist and postmodernist) that had set off the little firestorm. The law actually reads: "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."
At least Zimmerman had this much right: The new law makes no friggin' sense. So we asked the people who promoted the bill what they were thinking.
The Constitutional Committee of the United States, a Florida-based education group, says it has been fighting revisionism in Florida public schools since 1997 by proposing bills that mandate teaching of "genuine history," whatever the hell that is.
John Earley, one of the directors of the group, says he was horrified when his 17-year-old son, Alex, watched Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11 in a history class this spring at Wellington High School but never read the Bill of Rights. (Jeez, John. That takes about five minutes. It's just ten little amendments. Read the thing to Alex yourself, will ya?)
"We just want it taught the way it should be taught, without the teachers interjecting their own political views," Earley says. "My son, he's spending two weeks on the Bill Clinton administration. What we do want in the future is to make sure that our founding documents are taught in the way that our founding fathers would be happy about it."
Oh, you mean like on slate tablets with chalk? With teachers in powdered wigs? And with no female or nonwhite students in the room, like in the good old revolutionary days?
Well, not quite that retro, it turns out. "The entire education system has been infiltrated by people who have an agenda," says David Wood, vice president of the Constitutional Committee. "Basically, they hate America, and they want to undercut it."
This year, Earley and Wood convinced Rep. Rich Glorioso (R-Plant City) and Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) to co-sponsor their bill.
"History is facts. I'm saying, 'Teach the facts.' Custer was massacred. That is a fact," says Glorioso, who is exactly correct: Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer did get his ass handed to him at Little Big Horn in an attack by Lakota and Northern Cheyenne forces in 1876. But Glorioso, Fasano, Wood, and Earley don't seem to understand that after more than a century of feeding kids the same old stories about events like Little Big Horn, it might be time, you know, to hear how the battle went from the Indian perspective. After all, they were the winners in that particular engagement. And in recent decades, that's exactly what history professor-types have tried to do: expand our knowledge of the past by trying to get those lost perspectives by the men, women, and (gasp!) darker-shaded folks who actually lived and worked and died in this country and made it what it is today.
But it's not like that project is going to come to a screeching halt because of a law that's a big fat joke. Even Wood is steamed, after the bill's original language got watered down before Jeb signed it.
"Our portion of this bill has absolutely no teeth in it whatsoever," he says. "If any of these more liberal people are worried about it, they're imagining things."
Hear that, kids? In other words, history class won't be disrupted, and you can go back to sleeping through it anyway.
We all know what a blast it can be driving around in a hurricane's aftermath dodging nail-filled puddles, skirting half-toppled power lines but the safeniks in Broward County's permit center have decided to cut down on confused post-storm commutes by offering decals that notify customers which businesses have generator power. Humbly, the 'Pipe would like to offer readers additional signs (pictured) that they can cut out and hang in the front window. You know, to make your friends and neighbors aware that your pad is the place to be after a storm.
When it comes to taking care of historic homes, South Florida ain't exactly a poster child for preservation. Unfortunately, what man and machine don't get to plunder, Ma Nature has a way of taking care of herself. After the double-whammy of Wilma and Katrina last year, Fort Lauderdale's historic Bonnet House took the hardest hit of just about any structure in town. Closed for seven weeks due to power outages, the Bonnet House had to spend $300,000 just to clear away tree limbs. The loss of tour revenue and the cost of cleanup and replacing landscaping came to more than $1.8 million which would seem a catastrophic blow to the museum/tourist attraction.
"Especially when you consider our annual budget is $1.2 million," says Director of Development Patrick Shavloske. Grants and gifts from foundations and corporations have pushed the house back toward the black, but the specter of another hurricane season even as roofs are being fixed and mold damage repaired isn't making anyone feel comfortable. Making matters worse, the house doesn't even have a backup generator in case the power goes out again. If the house is shuttered tight again, without electricity, even more of the museum's collection is in jeopardy.
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"We're not masters of our own fate here," Shavloske explains. Bonnet House is owned by the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, which hasn't kicked down the cash for a new generator yet.
At least the Bonnet House isn't threatened by a 42-story condominium sprouting up in its backyard, like the unfortunate Stranahan House a few miles away. "Well..." Shavloske says. "Um. There's a possibility that one may be going next to us at the Howard Johnson's site on A1A."
Of course, there's always the possibility the new condo will act as a windbreak.
As told to Tony Ortega