In recent weeks, a controversy has erupted over the new African American history standards approved by the Florida Board of Education. The standards, which include a section on how enslaved people developed skills that could be applied for their personal benefit, have drawn criticism from various individuals and organizations.
One notable figure who has spoken out against the standards is Republican Florida congressman Byron Donalds. While Donalds praised the new state standards overall, he expressed concern about the inclusion of the section on the personal benefits of slavery. In a series of tweets, Donalds stated that featuring the personal benefits of slavery is wrong and needs to be adjusted. He expressed his faith that the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) will correct this issue.
Donalds’ measured criticism stands in contrast to the more vigorous condemnations made by Vice President Kamala Harris. However, his concerns highlight the contentious nature of the new standards and the need for further examination and potential revisions.
The section in question states that slaves developed skills that could be applied for their personal benefit. Critics argue that this wording fails to provide the full context of slavery and ignores the brutal and dehumanizing aspects of the institution. They argue that it is misleading to suggest that there were any personal benefits to slavery, as it was a system built on oppression and exploitation.
The controversy surrounding the new standards has sparked a broader debate about how history should be taught, particularly when it comes to sensitive and painful topics such as slavery. Supporters of the standards argue that it is important to provide a comprehensive understanding of history, including the agency and resilience of enslaved people. They argue that acknowledging the skills developed by slaves does not undermine the horrors of slavery but rather provides a more nuanced and accurate portrayal of their experiences.
On the other hand, critics argue that the standards sanitize and distort the history of slavery. They argue that focusing on the personal benefits of slavery perpetuates harmful stereotypes and downplays the systemic violence and oppression endured by enslaved people. They believe that a more honest and inclusive approach to teaching history is necessary to promote understanding and empathy.
The controversy has also taken on a political dimension, with supporters and opponents of the standards aligning themselves along partisan lines. Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has defended the standards, stating that they are rooted in factual information and were developed by scholars. He has accused critics of trying to rewrite history for political purposes.
The response to Donalds’ criticism from members of the DeSantis administration highlights the political nature of the controversy. His comments were met with accusations that he was siding with the liberal media and Vice President Harris. This response reflects the broader polarization of the issue and the tendency to view any criticism as a partisan attack.
In the midst of the heated debate, education officials and policymakers will need to carefully consider the arguments put forth by both sides. Balancing the need for a comprehensive understanding of history with the responsibility to accurately portray the experiences of marginalized communities is a complex task. It will require thoughtful engagement and a commitment to ongoing dialogue and revision.
Ultimately, the controversy surrounding the new African American history standards in Florida highlights the challenges of teaching history in a diverse and politically charged society. It underscores the importance of approaching the subject with sensitivity, nuance, and a commitment to truth and accuracy. As educators and policymakers navigate these challenges, it is crucial to prioritize the voices and experiences of those who have historically been marginalized and silenced. Only through a comprehensive and inclusive understanding of history can we hope to move towards a more just and equitable society.
0. “Florida Black history academic shreds Harris’ ‘categorically false’ claims in unaired ABC News interview” Fox News, 25 Jul. 2023, https://www.foxnews.com/media/florida-black-history-academic-shreds-harris-categorically-false-claims-unaired-abc-news-interview
1. “Opinion | Black History Is a Casualty in Ron DeSantis’s Christian Nationalist Quest” The New York Times, 27 Jul. 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/26/opinion/desantis-slavery.html
2. “Black GOP Congressman Rejects ‘Slavery Was A Good Thing'” The Root, 27 Jul. 2023, https://www.theroot.com/the-black-gop-congressman-whos-rejecting-floridas-slave-1850683728
3. “GOP rep. wants Florida to ‘correct’ controversial history standards” MSNBC, 27 Jul. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/gop-rep-wants-florida-correct-controversial-history-standards-rcna96627
4. “Analysis | Note to Florida and DeSantis: Enslaved Africans were already skilled” The Washington Post, 24 Jul. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2023/07/24/florida-slavery-history-ron-desantis/