ORLANDO (FLV) – The number of Florida school districts participating in the state’s civics and debate initiative has significantly grown over the last two years.
Florida’s Voice spoke with Education Commissioner Manny Diaz about the growth.
“It’s not only great to see but it’s really important because it really aims at giving our students those critical thinking skills and experiences where they actually have to build knowledge,” Diaz said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis established the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative (FCDI) in 2020 to encourage student participation in debate. The FCDI will host The Great Debate in Orlando for nearly 400 students from across country to take part this weekend.
The Great Debate is a triathlon-style tournament that tests students’ civic knowledge and communication skills. The students will compete to be the national champion. The event has nearly tripled in size.
There were 11 school districts participating in the initiative when it launched in 2020. Now there are 55 school districts involved. The initiative is expected to reach all Florida school districts in the 2022-23 school year.
“The best part is sometimes they have to take on the position that they don’t support and they have to learn that and be able to debate and argue that,” Diaz said.
The debate initiative is partnership between the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Education Foundation. The program’s goal is to provide middle school and high school students with civics education through curriculum support, debate opportunities, and high-quality teachers. It also provides student debate camps and coaching clinics.
The commissioner’s next goal is for elementary schools to begin competing in declamation competitions. Those allow elementary students to learn the basic parts of debate.
“That’s going to create a pipeline of students,” he said.
Diaz said DeSantis has made it a priority for Florida to be the “headquarters” for civics education.
In July, the governor announced he awarded $6.5 million to launch civics academies for students beginning in 9th grade to learn how to prepare for a career as a public servant.
“What we’re doing is really a one of a kind workforce program to help students who may want to be involved in different types of government service,” DeSantis said.
The DeSantis Administration launched a Summer Civics Professional Learning Series to help educators with their civics content knowledge.
More than 2,100 educators in June and July attended the learning series. 87% of attendees said the presenters effectively modeled instructional strategies. The department hosted ten three-day civics trainings for educators across the state.
The governor has praised Florida’s civics courses for focusing on the “real facts” in public schools.
“You’re learning the real history,” DeSantis said. “You’re learning the real facts, but it’s not going to be done in a way that’s trying to indoctrinate students with whatever modern agenda that somebody may have.”
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