The Florida State Board of Education approved standards for a new African American history curriculum, sparking controversy among politicians and educators alike.
The guidelines included one particularly divisive goal of education: Florida public schools would now teach that slavery benefited some blacks because it taught them useful skills.
A 216-page Florida BOE document detailing changes to history lessons in Florida schools says teachers should include the notion that “slaves have developed skills that in some cases can be applied to their personal gain.”
Attorney Stephen Hunter Johnson said the standards updates “diluted” the hard truth about slavery in this country.
“You cannot soften the blow and the stain of slavery in this country,” Johnson said. “No one in Florida called for significant change other than members of the black community who simply asked for a deeper dive. We haven’t been able to dive deeper.”
Critics point to the update, which requires teachers to talk about skills African Americans have learned in slavery that could benefit them personally. They also criticize the board for using “obsolete language” such as “slave” instead of “enslaved”.
“Slavery was presented as a training ground where enslaved people were taught skills they could use to their advantage,” said Florida Senator Geraldine Thompson.
Thompson is a member of the Commissioner of Education’s African American History Working Group, which aims to promote the development and teaching of African American history in schools. She called the idea that slavery was an advantage for some blacks a “delusion”.
The Florida Board of Education on Wednesday approved new academic standards for teaching African American history. Here’s what you need to know.
“Florida statute requires that the teaching of African civilization be conducted prior to colonization and slavery. This emphasis is completely absent from the recently adopted standards,” Thompson wrote in a statement. “Standards should not promote the misconception that our history as a people began with slavery and not with one of the most advanced civilizations in the world.”
A Florida Department of Education spokesperson said in a statement that the standards “were created by a working group of 13 educators and scholars, including nominees from the Commissioner’s African American History Task Force.”
Dr. Donna Austin, also a member of the task force, told NBC 6 on Monday that several members were never up to date with curriculum updates. The task force was set up decades ago to make recommendations for teaching African American history in schools.
As of Monday, NBC6 was still working to confirm which task force members were involved in this conversation.
The new curriculum also includes a subsection that will force teachers to talk about how African Americans have been involved in racial violence throughout history.
The instruction should include “acts of violence committed against African Americans and African Americans, but not limited to the 1906 Atlanta Race Riots, the 1920 Washington, D.C. Race Riots, the 1920 Okoee Massacre, the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre,” the document states.
Thompson explained that the instructions for the Okoye Massacre, detailed in the document, did not mention the voting rights requirements that “caused the massacre of more than 30 Okoe residents.”
The Okoee Massacre was a historic event when 30-35 African Americans were killed by a white mob. Black homes were burned down and the remaining black residents were expelled from the city of Okoee, making it a “sunset” or all-white community.
Florida Parents and Teachers Association President Carolyn Nelson-Goedert urged the Bank of England to reconsider the decision as well.
“The State Board of Education hastened to approve, with only cursory questions and without Board discussion, revised social research standards, including a section on African American history that many considered incomplete, inaccurate, and even misrepresented,” Nelson said in a statement from the Florida Parents’ Council.
Nelson explained that “nearly an hour” of statements from parents, African-American activists, former state legislators and education experts did nothing for the Bank of England.
“Their pleas fell on deaf ears,” Nelson said.
“We are proud of the rigorous process the Department has taken to develop these standards,” said Florida State Representative Manny Diaz Jr. “It is sad to see how critics try to discredit what any unbiased observer would consider to be the deep and comprehensive standards of African American history. They include all the components of African American history: the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Jacksonville on Friday to express her dissatisfaction with the new education standards.
“High school students in Florida are told that enslaved people benefit from slavery, high school students can be taught that the victims of massacre violence were also perpetrators; I said it yesterday, they are insulting us in an attempt to gaslight, and we will not allow this, ”Harris said to applause.