Politics, Pranks, and Parties: Schoolteacher Ron DeSantis’s Year - Liberty

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Politics, Pranks, and Parties: Schoolteacher Ron DeSantis’s Year

 Twenty years ago in a private school, the future Governor of Florida was a popular history teacher and coach. However, some students were surprised by his comments about the Civil War and abortion.

After graduating from Yale University, Ron DeSantis taught at the Darlington School, a private boarding school in Rome, Georgia for the 2001-2002 academic year, just before entering Harvard Law School.

Twenty years ago, in the foothills of northwest Georgia, a new history teacher joined the faculty of one of the state's oldest and largest boarding schools.

He was a cheeky young Ivy League graduate and athlete who made it clear to anyone listening that his stay at this Darlington school was a pit stop on his way to something bigger. He told his students that he might one day become president.

Among the recent revolving door of college graduates who have taught several times in private schools, the teacher, then only 23, was at last month's first reunion in 20 years in Darlington for one important reason. It became a topic. Currently governor of Florida.

An episode in which a former student describes Governor Ron DeSantis' year in Darlington provides a window into the formative years of one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. Aimed at the White House.

As the school's baseball and football coach, Mr. DeSantis was admired and respected by his team. As a teacher, he was remembered by some former students as cocky and arrogant. He once publicly embarrassed students with his pranks, went out to parties with his seniors and argued about the Civil War with students who questioned the focus, and sometimes accuracy, of his teaching.

The governor, who took over the "awakened left" over the education of history, gender identity, and sexual orientation, showed signs at the time of being a devoted conservative, a young, cool teacher who liked girls and was envied by boys. rice field.

he was a complete joke. That was his character," said Gates Minnis, a 2003 graduate of Colorado. "He was proud to graduate from Ivy and thought he was very special."

However, Mr. DeSantis was popular with many students.

"He was definitely one of the cool guys," said Trip Burns, a student whose mother taught at school. "There was another young teacher who tried to be everyone's friend with little of his mystique."

Burns said he was "charismatic" and "very smart". "People liked him."

A picture of Mr. DeSantis for the school yearbook in Darlington, where he taught high school history and coached sports.

Mr. DeSantis' office did not respond to a request to discuss the year at Darlington University and the memories of the students. The governor does not include his years as a high school teacher in many of his official biographies and does not appear to have spoken publicly about his time at school.

After graduating from Yale University, Mr. DeSantis taught at Darlington for the 2001-2002 academic year, just before entering Harvard Law School.

Founded in 1905, the co-educational private boarding school in Rome, Georgia was one of the first private schools in the South to admit black students, according to its website. Several students of color interviewed by The Times said they were hired on generous scholarships.

Boarders live in one of six residence halls on the lush 500-acre campus northwest of Atlanta. The area is currently represented in Congress by conservative agitator Marjorie Taylor-Greene.

Students visit the interdenominational chapel once a week and toss their backpacks on the lawn. Resident student tuition, and room and board costs currently exceed $50,000 annually.

As the school's baseball and football coach, Mr. DeSantis was admired and respected by his team.

With about 750 students in grades K-12, the school's students come not only from wealthy local families but also from liberal enclaves like New York and California. Mr. DeSantis' history and government course was a lively discussion.

Daniel Pompey remembers Mr. DeSantis, a Florida native, and recent Yale graduate, as an outsider like her, a New Yorker with a heavy accent to match. Ms. Pompey, who received the money, said she felt she had been treated badly by Mr. DeSantis because of her race.

"Mr. Pompei, who graduated in 2003, said:

She recalled Mr. DeSantis teaching Civil War history in a way that sounded like an attempt to justify slavery.

"Like a history lesson, he was trying to play the devil's advocate that the South had better reasons to fight wars and kill other people than to own black people," she said. "He was trying to say, 'It's not good to own people, but they have property and businesses.'"

Pompey said he saw parallels between DeSantis' views as a young educator and his policies as governor 20 years later.

"He gave us a good opportunity to enrich people. He came out there from the Northeast to show people in the South that we can merge," she said. I didn't want to do it."

Mr. DeSantis spoke last month at a rally in Hauppauge, New York.

Mr. Minis, who was white and was in the same history class as Mr. Pompey, also remembers discussing issues related to the Civil War. DeSantis didn't have very political opinions, she says, but the facts are wrong in her view. She remembers him claiming that all the cities in the South had burned, even though she knew that her hometown of Savannah had not, and she called him out on it.

Another student, who requested anonymity for fear of repercussions on her work, said Mr. DeSantis' views on the Civil War had become so popular that students at the time made satirical videos about him for their video yearbooks. said he made it.

The Times-reviewed video contains a brief snippet in which a voice can be heard claiming to be Mr. DeSantis. It was about two competing economic systems. one was in the north. …” while a student dozes off in class. (Students voiced the role of Mr. DeSantis because they didn't have actual footage of him, according to the students who helped put it together.)

Abortion was another issue that was brought up in class at least once, according to former student Matthew Arne. who said he had a discussion with his students. He said it bothered him when his girlfriend, who was in Mr. DeSantis' history class, told him about what Mr. DeSantis said. and disagreed with Mr. DeSantis' stance.

"He's pretty steadfast in his beliefs," Arne said. Minnis added that he always seemed to be looking to the future. "He's like someone who was in the long game when he was younger," she said. Several students said Mr. DeSantis had a superiority complex.

"Mr. DeSantis was a self-righteous man," Arne said. Students were well aware that he had just graduated from Yale University, he said. "It was like, 'I'm better than you,'" he said. "And we were all just kids."

Several students recalled that Mr. DeSantis frequently attended parties with the elderly in town. Most people spoke of interacting with him on condition of anonymity because they feared a backlash against speaking publicly about it.

"When I was 18, I was like, 'Hey, what are you doing here? When he was in fourth grade, Minis said he found the note on his teacher's desk the fall after DeSantis left. Staff was reminded that it was inappropriate to hang out with students even after they graduated.

"I remember everyone saying, 'That's Mr. DeSantis!'" Another student remembered at least one teacher who interacted with the student that year.

Last year, Hill Reporter, a blog published by the Democratic Super PAC, published a photo of Mr. DeSantis with several Darlington schoolgirls in 2002.

Two former students, both women, remembered him attending at least two parties where alcohol was served. I didn't think much about it," said one former student.

Two other students remembered Mr. DeSantis and a prank by a student who boasted about how much milk he could drink.

They said Mr. DeSantis challenged the boy to drink as much milk as possible in one sitting, which he did and vomited as dozens of students watched.

"I think about it now. I'm a public school teacher," said Adam Moody, a freshman on the baseball team who witnessed the incident. "I put myself in the moment and it's just unthinkable. There's cruelty in your sense of humor. There's cruelty in mentorship."

A spokeswoman for Darlington declined to comment in detail on Mr. DeSantis' stay.

Publicist Tanika King said in an email that DeSantis taught five classes, coached two sports, performed "dormitory duties," and supervised students outside of school hours at the dormitory.

Ken Wempe, who taught middle school when Mr. DeSantis was teaching history, said the line-up was known as the "triple threat" and that many boarding school teachers had a bigger job than traditional day schools. He said it meant he was carrying a lot.

"You teach, mentor, and work in a dormitory," said Wempe, now the principal of a middle school in Indianapolis. He said he was making about $27,000 a year at the time, providing free housing and dining room meals.

Like other first-grade teachers, Wempe said DeSantis was learning the job on the fly while "drinking water from a fire hose." "My impressions of him were all positive," he said.

Lee Grady, who graduated in 2004 and was on the baseball team coached by Mr. DeSantis, also remembered him fondly.

"He was all to himself, but when you connected with him, he was open and had a lot to give," Grady said. "He helped a lot of us in the field. Especially when some of us were preoccupied with being young adults.”

As a teacher, DeSantis "was able to sharpen our minds and at least show that hard work pays off," he said. "I know some of us weren't the best. His guidance made us better baseball players and better people."