Florida’s Board of Education voted to approve several new rules this week, including teaching that African Americans benefited from their enslavement.
The new curriculum has sparked outrage and accusations of racism, setting up a new school year unlike any other because of these changes and other laws passed by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
One of the most controversial rules drawing significant pushback is the alteration of the standards of instruction for African American history.
Critics argue that the new standards attempt to rewrite Black history in a deeply concerning manner.
Democratic state lawmakers made their objections known at the board’s meeting on July 19, expressing particular concern over one instructional change implying enslaved individuals benefited from their enslavement.
“Any kind of standards that indicate that slavery benefited Black people is such an insult,” said State Rep. Rita Harris. Added Rep. Anna Eskamani, “The notion that enslaved people benefited from being enslaved is inaccurate and a scary standard for us to establish in our education system.”
The new rule faced additional opposition from a coalition of Black leaders and community groups, who wrote a letter to the school board asserting that the standards intentionally omitted or distorted crucial historical facts about the Black experience.
Despite the widespread criticism, the board plans to implement the new rule on African American history instruction, along with several others, in classrooms across the state during the upcoming school year.
The move adds to the state’s ongoing debate over African American history in education, further exacerbated by the education department’s rejection of a preliminary pilot version of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course for high school students, citing an alleged lack of educational value.
Under the new standards imposed by the board and DeSantis, teachers will instruct middle school students about how enslaved people developed skills they could use to benefit themselves. The curriculum omits the brutal horrors of slavery, the inhumane treatment of African Americans, including the rape and torture of enslaved people, selling and separating families, and even the brutal mistreatment of children and babies.
The new curriculum also attempts to shift blame for historic race massacres by teaching that African Americans were perpetrators of the violence and not victims of systemic oppression.
The language of the curriculum states: “Instruction 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.”
“Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson stated. “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.”
The NAACP has already issued a formal travel advisory for the state of Florida in response to Gov. DeSantis’ attempts to “erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”
Following DeSantis’ ordering the state to reject students’ access to AP African American studies courses in March, the NAACP distributed 10,000 books to 25 predominantly Black communities across the state in collaboration with the American Federation of Teachers’ Reading Opens the World program.
“Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the state of Florida has become hostile to Black Americans and in direct conflict with the democratic ideals that our union was founded upon,” NAACP Johnson stated.
Stacy M. Brown is the NNPA Newswire national senior correspondent.