In early September 2022, readers asked us to verify whether or not a picture posted on Twitter showed a real homework assignment from a school in Florida. In truth, yes, students in at least one classroom at a Florida middle school received a homework assignment that included a section with an example combining the topics of media bias, former U.S. President Donald Trump, and claims of a "stolen" election.
The photo of the assignment was tweeted by Ron Filipkowski, a criminal defense attorney in Sarasota. It was captioned as, "6th Grade assignment today, Nolan Elementary School, Bradenton, FL, Desantistan." (The last word of the tweet, "Desantistan," was a partisan dig at Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in the past showed strong support of Trump and the Trump administration's policies.)
While the assignment was real, we soon found that there was quite a bit of context to unpack surrounding this issue.
School District Statement
According to ABC7 WWSB, the assignment was handed out by a substitute teacher at R. Dan Nolan Middle School in Bradenton, Florida.
Mike Barber, the communications director for the School District of Manatee County, told us by phone that the assignment was left behind by a teacher who had already been on leave for some time. In other words, this assignment was created by one teacher for one classroom and was not part of the official curriculum of the entire state of Florida.
In a statement, Barber said the homework "does not meet the expectations" of the district. He added that "a thorough review of future homework lessons in this course is taking place and remaining issues related to this assignment will be addressed," and that the district is "committed to adhering to the curriculum and instructional standards set forth by the Florida Department of Education and Florida Statutes."
The Homework Assignment
The full homework assignment on media bias, Trump, and the "stolen" 2020 election claims was posted by the Bradenton Herald. It showed two titles, including "How Does a Historian Work?" and "Researching History." Its purpose appeared to be to teach students how to look for facts and evidence, and also how to discern the difference between biased and unbiased sources. (This is the kind of context some readers might not find in brief social media posts about this controversy.)
According to ABC7, Barber said that "the homework assignment was based on chapter one of a state-approved textbook by McGraw Hill, 'Discovering Our Past -- A History of the World Early Ages.'" We confirmed with Barber that the teacher on leave was the person who created the assignment.
The top of the first page asked students to write definitions for various words. The small section beginning with the word "Bias" contained the part that stirred controversy:
7. Bias - __________
Bias can be created by inserting suggestive __________ into statements. The media is often biased and will add words that persuade you to think one way over another. Read these two statements made by reporters after the 2020 election:
- President Trump made claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
- President Trump made false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
The first sentence is just giving you information, while the second sentence leads you to believe he is wrong before you have all of the facts.
To gauge local reactions to the homework assignment in the Bradenton area, 10 Tampa Bay interviewed parents who appeared to be associated with students at the school:
One father said he was unhappy with the teachings of political biases.
"...the way this question is phrased would lead a student to believe that the media was incorrect in their assessment that the president's claims were false," he said. "I'm also unhappy that at a time when Florida is imposing so many draconian restrictions on what teachers cannot say, they would think teaching this political bias is acceptable."
Another mother said, "The political rhetoric should stay out of the classroom. This is extremely disturbing and egregious to think our kids are being subjected to the teacher’s opinions being presented as facts."
Regarding the 2020 election, neither Trump nor anyone associated with his administration has ever provided credible data to confirm his long-standing and baseless claim that he, not Biden, won the 2020 presidential race, and only lost because of election fraud. In point of fact, that claim has been disproven in myriad ways, time and time again.
In sum, yes, the middle school homework assignment that mentioned media bias, Trump, and the false "stolen" election claim was a real handout given to students in one Florida classroom. This story will be updated if any further developments occur.