Politico. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a rally in support of Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano on August 19, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. | Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
The novel 1984 by George Orwell critiques totalitarianism and political dystopias. This book takes place in an oppressive future world, split up into three powers that are constantly at war, leaving citizens working for the endless war effort and poor from their governments, pouring all of their resources into the stagnant war and coerced into obedience. The citizen's obedience entails unwavering admiration for Big Brother and his party with life-threatening consequences if disobeyed. These people cannot say or believe in any ideas except Big Brother or even their own.
The novel – written in 1949 – serves as a warning to the future of politics. However, the book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism and the chapter, Ignorance is Strength, serve as a political theory proven to be accurate in its critiques of past dictators, which is why it has become a banned book. This empirical manifesto written by the character Emmanuel Goldstein, the enemy of the tyrannical “Big Brother” and his society of naive and oppressed citizens, proves how dictators indoctrinate their credulous citizens through the erasure of history. This chapter mirrors DeSantis’s impudence in educational bans and his likeness of totalitarianism.
Goldstein’s most notable characteristic of totalitarianism is the execration of any thought and philosophy other than Big Brother's dictatorial and manipulative ruling party. He states,
“At all times, the Party is in possession of absolute truth, and clearly the absolute can never have been different from what it is now. It will be soon that the control of the past depends above all on the training of memory… and if it is necessary to rearrange one’s memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.”
George Orwell’s passage describes how autocratic leaders psychologically deceive their followers by altering history to suit them and constricting free education and thought. This ability to act omnipotent and create their own dogma while contrarily finding out a way to deny and use reality to manipulate the people all by erasing history.
DeSantis employs this method and could veer toward a similar outcome in his actions as the governor of Florida. A few of his recent bills and acts pervading Florida are through his educational bans in public schools for children from kindergarten to even higher education. The most recent and infamous are the “Don't Say Gay” Bill and the “Stop WOKE” [Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees] Act.
The former was aimed at kindergarten through third-grade children and then expanded to all until 12th grade. This law “forbid[s] classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades,” and his party firmly believes that “the measure is reasonable and that parents, not teachers, should be broaching subjects of sexual orientation and gender identity with their children.” His personal beliefs and prejudices reflected in the law and infringement of rights embedded in education to indoctrinate children and diminish free speech.
Moreover, NPR notes DeSantis defends his law by saying, “teaching kindergarten-aged kids that ‘they can be whatever they want to be was ‘inappropriate’ for children…’ It's not something that's appropriate for any place, but especially not in Florida.’” In DeSantis’ society, autonomy in speech and thought is starting to be illegal, mirroring Big Brother’s restrictive society. This law is reminiscent of this fictional society’s enforcement of subservience because of a lack of education and thus, a lack of free thought. Desantis is trying to accomplish this feature of society as he governs Florida and enters the 2024 presidential race by eliminating aspects of education from children at an early age to reshape their minds and belief systems; this is precisely how Big Brother built his power.
The Stop WOKE Act is another instance of DeSantis’s impending totalitarian efforts through eliminating education uplifts and recognition of disenfranchised individuals. This act “prohibits educational institutions and businesses from teaching students and employees anything that would cause anyone to ‘feel guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress’ due to race, color, sex or national origin.” DeSantis feels that learning about institutional racism, Critical Race Theory, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives exclude white individuals, so he proposed to cut funding and teaching of these programs to secure his fragile idea of white supremacy at the expense of a large population of students of color. He condemns these policies, hoping followers will agree to destroy any education threatening his identity. Stop WOKE is his second policy that directly mirrors Big Brother’s efforts to erase education, preserve his image, and accumulate a following who agrees with it by shaping the minds of young people forcibly.
Unsurprisingly, the consequences of this act inadvertently affect the minorities and disenfranchised communities. DeSantis’ homogenous agenda continues to pervade Florida schools by denying classroom equity and equality. The extent of these laws has gone to restrict AP courses in Psychology and African-American Studies. The restriction of AP Psychology in Florida schools – where students are too young to vote on issues and candidates – plummets in offering equal opportunity in education. While AP Psychology was intended to be banned, it can be taught in a modified version. Politico clarifies that schools that choose to offer the course must comply with DeSantis’ law prohibiting talks of sexuality and gender studies, which denies one’s full and equitable access to education and outright censors it. Conversely, schools that want to teach it could face arrest, so some decided to discontinue the course, unfortunately continuing to deny equitable education to students.
Lastly, the ban on AP African-American studies is undoubtedly a racist attack and suppression of information. DeSantis referred to this course as “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” DeSantis implemented and backed his contempt for Black U.S. history in this decision by creating his laws. Black history is the foundation of what the U.S. has become today, so to erase this course erases history for Floridians. Ron DeSantis claiming he is pushing for “education, not indoctrination” is almost as satirical as it is disappointing.
With each aspect of diverse education falling like dominos, it is vital for students to stay educated and free-thinking without manipulation from evil leaders. The novel 1984 serves as a message after 74 years to warn us of manipulation tactics autocratic leaders might use to gain power and control through policies. In addition, this novel is also a guide to how to detect said manipulation and characteristics of abusive power and dystopias. A fear is that DeSantis’ tactics mirror so close to Big Brother’s and are gaining success that if time goes on, he could effectively shape the minds of developing children to adhere to his bigoted agenda. This op-ed serves as a warning that these totalitarian-esque policies and actions are veering too close to Big Brother’s. While 1984 is fictional, its contents contain genuine threats we must consider going forward in the upcoming election.
Atterbury, Andrew. “Florida clarifies AP psychology can be taught after confusion.”
Politico, 9 August 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/08/09/florida-ap-psychology-college-board-00110601. Accessed 3 October 2023.
Izaguirre, Anthony. “DeSantis to expand 'Don't Say Gay' law to high school classes.” PBS, 22 March 2023, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/desantis-to-expand-dont-say-gay-law-to-high-school-classes. Accessed 3 October 2023.
Mudde, Cas. “What is behind Ron DeSantis's Stop-Woke Act? | Cas Mudde.” The Guardian, 6 February 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/06/what-is-behind-ron-desantis-stop-woke-act. Accessed 3 October 2023.
Orwell, George. 1984. 1949.
Pendharkar, Eesha. “Florida's Ban on AP African American Studies, Explained.” Education Week, 24 January 2023, https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/floridas-ban-on-ap-african-american-studies-explained/2023/01. Accessed 3 October 2023.
Shaefer, Jack. “Ron DeSantis, Republican Stuntman.” Politico, 15 September 2022,