Educators, historians, and civil rights leaders were among those who on Thursday condemned Florida’s new K-12 history curriculum as a “big step backward” for teaching that slavery gave African Americans beneficial “skills,” and for what critics argue is a disproportionate focus on Black-on-Black violence.
In addition to teaching the superiority of U.S. capitalism compared with systems of “authoritarian control over the economy” like socialism and communism, the section on antebellum history states that “instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Additionally, in a state that saw Jim Crow-era atrocities including the Ocoee and Rosewood massacres and lynchings like the Newberry Six, the new curriculum says students should be taught about “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
Florida state Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-15)—who fought to include a lesson about the 1920 Ocoee massacre, in which a white mob murdered dozens of Black people trying to vote—told The Washington Post that the curriculum “suggests that the massacre was sparked by violence from African Americans. That’s blaming the victims.”
Black history according to #DeSantis’ Florida: slavery provided beneficial vocational training for slaves.
This is racist child abuse by textbook. There is no pedagogical subtlety here, this is educational blunt force trauma for kids.
— Rev. & Prof. Cornell William Brooks🟧 (@CornellWBrooks) July 20, 2023
The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union, said in a statement that “these standards are a disservice to Florida’s students and are a big step backward.”
Author, professor, and activist Ibram X. Kendi compared the tone of the new curriculum to enslavers who “defended slavery by claiming it was a ‘positive good’ for Black people.”
Democratic presidential candidate and author Marianne Williamson tweeted: “Minimizing slavery is as offensive as minimizing the Holocaust. We should never do it, and we shouldn’t be OK with Florida doing it either. It is a disservice to our ancestors, a disservice to our children, and a disservice to our future.”
Telling students that slavery helped African Americans build life skills or that the massacres in Oboe and Tulsa were somehow a problem for both sides isn't historic: it's heinous. These so-called standards must be changed.https://t.co/qfh8XiUWJv
— Martin Luther King III (@OfficialMLK3) July 20, 2023
Sari Beth Rosenberg, who teaches Advanced Placement U.S. History in New York, asserted that “slavery was not beneficial to enslaved people. Ever.”
“The fact that a fellow history teacher in Florida is now expected to teach that is asking that teacher to commit educational malpractice. It is forcing teachers to teach lies to their students,” she added. “It’s despicable and we need everyone with a platform and expertise to speak out about this.”
In a sarcastic tweet, Marvin Dunn—who specializes in Florida’s Black history—lamented that the new curriculum “requires the teaching of the benefits of enslavement for the slaves.”
“It also has a section on the benefits of having cancer,” he sarcastically added.
The Florida Department of Education just adopted new standards for teaching African American history that requires the teaching of the benefits of enslavement for the slaves. It also has a section on the benefits of having cancer. pic.twitter.com/0dFikWfAs8
— Dr. Marvin Dunn (@MarvinDunn4) July 20, 2023
Mark Jacobs, an author and former Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times editor, quipped that “Ron DeSantis & Co. want us to believe slavery was a free training program,” a reference to Florida’s Republican governor, who is seeking the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Florida Education Commissioner Manny Díaz Jr, a Republican, insisted that the curriculum “provides Florida students a robust knowledge of African American history.”
“If anyone takes the time to actually look at the standards, you can see that everything is covered,” he said at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.
HAPPENING NOW: Florida State Board of Education is meeting to pass new rules and standards for African American history
— Florida’s Voice (@FLVoiceNews) July 19, 2023
While serving in the state Legislature, Díaz was the primary sponsor of the so-called Stop WOKE Act, which was signed into law by DeSantis last year. The legislation prohibits classroom discussions or corporate training that make students or workers feel uneasy about their race in what critics say is an effort to whitewash and stop discussion about the history of a nation built on a foundation of genocide, slavery, imperialism, and enduring discrimination.
Last November, a federal judge blocked key provisions of the law, citing George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 in his ruling.
Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Education also drew widespread condemnation for banning a pilot Advanced Placement high school African American course that, according to DeSantis, “lacks educational value” and violates the Stop WOKE Act by allegedly promoting critical race theory (CRT).
There is little to no evidence that CRT—a graduate-level academic discipline examining systemic racism—is being taught in any K-12 school in Florida, or anywhere in the United States.
— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) July 20, 2023
“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?” FEA president Andrew Spar said in response to the new curriculum guidelines. “Florida’s students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help heal 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,” he continued. “They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad.”
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