Florida’s new education standards for teaching Black history in schools have sparked controversy and debate. The revised guidelines, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis last year, require middle school educators to teach students that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” While DeSantis and some Republicans defend the curriculum, civil rights advocates and education experts argue that it presents a sanitized and dishonest version of the history of slavery in America.
The Florida State Board of Education approved these new standards earlier this month, leading to backlash from various political figures and organizations. NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson criticized the standards, stating that they represent a step backward for educational justice in Florida. He argued that the guidelines provide a distorted view of slavery and ignore the devastating impact it had on enslaved individuals and their families.
The controversy stems from the requirement to teach middle schoolers that enslaved people developed skills for their personal benefit. Critics argue that this framing minimizes the horrors of slavery and fails to acknowledge the systemic oppression and violence that enslaved individuals endured. Vice President Kamala Harris and Republican Florida Representative Byron Donalds are among those who have voiced their opposition to the standards.
It is important to note that these standards were implemented to comply with House Bill 7, also known as the Stop WOKE Act, which DeSantis signed into law in April 2022. This law aims to prevent instruction that might make individuals feel guilty for past actions committed by their race and rejects the notion that meritocracy is racist or that privilege and oppression exist based on race, gender, or national origin. It also prohibits the teaching of critical race theory.
Senator Tim Scott, the only Black Republican senator currently serving in Congress, strongly criticized the new standards. He emphasized that there is no silver lining in slavery and highlighted the separation of families, mutilation of enslaved individuals, and sexual violence they endured. Scott’s remarks were seen as a rebuke to DeSantis, who has defended the standards.
DeSantis has faced backlash not only from critics but also from fellow Republicans. Representative Byron Donalds, who has endorsed former President Donald Trump, praised the overall standards but called for an adjustment to the section that mentions the personal benefits of slavery. Despite the criticism, DeSantis defended the standards and questioned the loyalty of those who spoke out against them.
The controversy surrounding Florida’s new education standards highlights the ongoing debate over how history, particularly the history of slavery, should be taught in schools. Advocates for a more honest and comprehensive approach argue that it is essential to acknowledge the full extent of the atrocities committed during slavery and its lasting impact on society. Critics, on the other hand, believe that focusing solely on the negative aspects perpetuates a narrative of victimhood and fails to recognize the agency and resilience of enslaved individuals.
As the debate continues, it is crucial to prioritize an accurate and inclusive understanding of history in order to foster empathy, understanding, and a more equitable society. The education of future generations plays a significant role in shaping a collective memory that acknowledges the struggles and contributions of all individuals, including those who have been marginalized throughout history.
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. “Rep. Byron Donalds attacked for speaking out against slavery teachings” Business Insider, 27 Jul. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/rep-byron-donalds-attacked-for-speaking-out-against-slavery-teachings-2023-7
2. “‘No silver lining in slavery’: Scott slams DeSantis on Florida curriculum comments” POLITICO, 28 Jul. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/07/27/no-silver-lining-in-slavery-scott-slams-desantis-on-florida-curriculum-comments-00108698
3. “Most of Florida work group did not agree with controversial parts of state’s new standards for Black history, members say” NBC News, 28 Jul. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-work-group-not-agree-controversial-parts-states-new-standards-rcna96490
4. “Read Florida’s Black history teaching standards document to get details on controversial new curriculum” CBS News, 28 Jul. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/florida-black-history-curriculum-document-pdf-new-teaching-standards-slavery-education/
5. “Looking for a fight, Ron DeSantis tangles with Kamala Harris” NBC News, 28 Jul. 2023, https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2024-election/looking-fight-ron-desantis-tangles-kamala-harris-rcna96788
6. “GOP Rep. Donalds blames DeSantis campaign for dustup over controversial Florida education standards” POLITICO, 28 Jul. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/07/28/donalds-desantis-florida-education-standards-00108737