Florida — Ron DeSantis, the Florida Governor, and the Florida Board of Education has made a controversial decision to teach public schools that slavery was more beneficial than it was bad.
The change is part of a new African American history standard that was approved on Wednesday, wherein schools will teach students that some Black people benefited from slavery for developing useful skills. The decision was blasted by a state teachers’ union, who described it as “a step backward.”
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Florida’s new standards
The Florida Department of Education released a document about its 2023 standards in social studies that talks about how slaves developed skills they could apply for personal benefits. The new standards also teach about how Black people were the source of violence in race massacres.
“Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, DC, Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre,” the language said.
A big step backwards
The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union that represents over 150,000 teachers slammed the new standards. They described it as a disservice to the state’s students, calling it a big step backward for Florida, which has required the education of African American history since 1994.
“How can our students ever be equipped for the future if they don’t have a full, honest picture of where we’ve come from?” Andrew Spar, president of the union, said in a statement.
“Florida’s students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help our nation’s divisions rather than deepen them.”
“Gov. DeSantis is pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another, and in the process he’s cheating our kids,” Spar continued.
“They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad.”
The teachers’ union said it was troubling that the standards would try to connect the 1920 Ocoee Massacre that saw around 30 African Americans killed when they attempted to vote with “acts of violence perpetrated by African Americans.” The union also said that middle school students would be taught that slavery was beneficial as African Americans developed skills.
Further update to the curriculum
The controversial updates to the African American history curriculum were mandatory as per a 2022 law that Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed the “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act” or the “Stop WOKE Act.”
A Florida Department of Education spokesperson responded to questions through a statement released by Dr. William Allen and Dr. Frances Presley Rice. The two are members of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup.
The statement said the standards were comprehensive and rigorous instructions on African American History.
“We proudly stand behind these African American History Standards,” the statement said. “The intent of this particular benchmark clarification is to show that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted. This is factual and well documented.”
“Some examples include: blacksmiths like Ned Cobb, Henry Blair, Lewis Latimer, and John Henry; shoemakers like James Forten, Paul Cuffe, and Betty Washington Lewis; fishing and shipping industry workers like Jupiter Hammon, John Chavis, William Whipper, and Crispus Attucks; tailors like Elizabeth Keckley, James Thomas, and Marietta Carter; and teachers like Betsey Stockton and Booker T. Washington.”
The statement added that it was disappointing some detractors would devalue the work group’s research, reducing it to “a few isolated expressions without context.”
Blocking course in January
In January, Ron DeSantis and his administration blocked an Advanced Placement course on African American studies from high schools, saying it was historically inaccurate and violated state law. The state education department rejected the program, releasing a letter to the College Board that oversees AP classes.
The Florida education officials said:
“As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
“In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, (the education department) will always be willing to reopen the discussion.”
The College Board responded with a statement, saying:
“Like all new AP courses, AP African American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multi-year pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars, and policymakers.”
“The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result.”
The same month saw Ron DeSantis and Manny Diaz Jr, the Education Commissioner, discuss the issue at a news conference. They touted the course as a Trojan horse that indoctrinated students with left-wing ideologies that passed off as education about the Black experience and African American history.