The Florida State Board of Education has recently faced backlash and controversy over its approval of new standards on how Black history should be taught in public schools. The approved standards include a portrayal of enslaved individuals as having acquired skills that could be used for their “personal benefit,” a perspective that has drawn wide criticism.
The new standards, outlined in a 216-page document, have been described as a sanitized and dishonest telling of the history of slavery in America. Critics argue that the inclusion of the idea that enslaved people had skills that benefited them perpetuates a false narrative that downplays the horrors and dehumanization of slavery. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has strongly condemned the move, stating that it is an attempt to bring the country back to a time when Black life was not valued and rights were not protected.
Vice President Kamala Harris also expressed her disapproval of the new curriculum. In a series of tweets, she called it “gaslighting” and accused the Florida Board of Education of attempting to cover up the true history of slavery and rewrite its horrors. Harris traveled to Florida to address the state board and criticize the new standards, emphasizing the importance of providing students with a full and honest understanding of the country’s history.
The Florida Education Association, a union representing over 150,000 educators, joined in the criticism, calling the new standards a disservice to students and a step backward for the state. The union argued that students need a comprehensive education that equips them to understand the country’s past and work towards healing division.
However, there are some defenders of the new standards. Members of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup, including Dr. William Allen and Dr. Frances Presley Rice, issued a statement defending the inclusion of the idea that some enslaved individuals developed specialized skills. They argued that this aspect of history is factual and well-documented.
The controversy surrounding the new standards extends beyond the portrayal of enslaved people’s skills. The curriculum also includes references to racial massacres, both perpetrated against and by African Americans. Critics argue that this framing minimizes the violence and systemic racism endured by Black communities during these events.
Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been at the center of the state’s educational policies, responded to Harris’s criticism by accusing her of lying about Florida’s educational standards in order to push her own agenda. DeSantis claimed that Democrats like Harris are attempting to indoctrinate students and introduce inappropriate topics into the curriculum.
The debate over how Black history should be taught in public schools is not unique to Florida. It reflects broader discussions and disagreements about the importance of presenting an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the country’s history, particularly when it comes to the experiences of marginalized communities. As educators, activists, and policymakers continue to grapple with these issues, the impact on students and their understanding of the past and present remains a crucial concern.
0. “NAACP President Decries New Florida Board of Education Rules” NAACP, 19 Jul. 2023, https://naacp.org/articles/naacp-president-decries-new-florida-board-education-rules
1. “V.P. Harris to speak out against Florida’s Black history curriculum during visit to Sunshine State” FOX 13 Tampa, 21 Jul. 2023, https://www.fox13news.com/news/v-p-harris-to-speak-out-against-floridas-black-history-curriculum-during-visit-to-sunshine-state
2. “DeSantis administration fires back at criticism over newly adopted African-American studies standards” Fox News, 21 Jul. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/media/desantis-administration-fires-back-criticism-over-newly-adopted-african-american-studies-standards
3. “New Florida standards teach that Black people benefited from slavery because it taught useful skills” NBC News, 20 Jul. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/new-florida-standards-teach-black-people-benefited-slavery-taught-usef-rcna95418
4. “DeSantis Faces Swell of Criticism Over Florida’s New Standards for Black History” Yahoo News, 22 Jul. 2023, https://news.yahoo.com/desantis-faces-swell-criticism-over-141714441.html
5. “VP blasts Florida’s new Black history standards, which say slavery had ‘personal benefit'” NBC 6 South Florida, 21 Jul. 2023, https://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/kamala-harris-travels-to-florida-to-speak-out-against-states-new-black-history-standards/3076054/