These include the idea that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit,” among other notions that teachers and Democratic state lawmakers are calling “a big step backwards” and a “disservice to Florida’s students.”
The Florida State Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved new academic standards for instruction about African American history that critics are saying is “inaccurate and scary.”
The new standards include the notion that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit,” and that “acts of violence” were perpetrated by African Americans in addition to acts of violence against them.
“The standards and guidelines approved today by [Gov. Ron DeSantis’] appointees on the State Board of Education are the latest instance of this administration undermining public education,” Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones (D-Miami Gardens) said in a statement immediately following the decision.
The changes to the African American history curriculum follow a controversial 2022 law that Gov. DeSantis dubbed the “Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act,” or “Stop WOKE Act.”
But although that law required that instruction “celebrate the inspirational stories of African Americans who prospered, even in the most difficult circumstances,” critics say the curriculum is incomplete, and students should be allowed to learn the “full truth” of American history.
In fact, the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, called the new standards –which are designed to guide lessons from kindergarten through high school–a “big step backward” for the state and a “disservice” to Florida’s students.
“Only Half the Story”
During a meeting Wednesday in Orlando, teachers and Democratic state lawmakers asked the board to table the standards to allow for changes.
“These new standards present only half the story and half the truth,” said Carol Cleaver, an Escambia County science teacher. “When we name political figures who worked to end slavery but leave anyone who worked to keep slavery legal nameless, kids are forced to fill in the blanks for themselves.”
Opponents are also concerned at teaching the notion that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,.” as it could be used as a way to excuse or even justify slavery to some.
“It’s inaccurate and a scary standard for us to establish in our educational curriculum,” Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, pointed out.
For her part, Democratic State Sen. Geraldine Thompson cited part of the high-school standards that require instruction that “includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.”
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“When you look at the history currently, it suggests that the massacre was sparked by violence from African Americans. That’s blaming the victim. When in fact, it was other individuals who came into the Black community and killed individuals, burned homes and schools and lodges,” said Thompson, whose Senate district includes Ocoee, where Black people were killed on election day in 1920 by a mob of white residents after Moses Norman, an African American resident, was denied the right to vote.
“Policies That Will Harm Floridians for Years”
Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. defended the standards, claiming that “we go into some of the tougher subjects, all the way into the beginnings of the slave trade, Jim Crow laws, the civil-rights movement and everything that occurred throughout our history.”
But opponents of the measures are pushing back against what Sen. Jones calls “draconian, dangerous policies that will harm Floridians for years to come.”
“Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement. “It is imperative that we understand that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history.”