Kamala Harris to travel to Florida to oppose new state standards on black history

Vice President Kamala Harris is set to travel to Florida on Friday to deliver a critique of the State Board of Education’s approval of new standards for teaching black history in public schools.

The Florida Board of Education on Wednesday approved new academic standards for teaching African American history after numerous teachers from across Florida opposed the changes and asked the board to shelve the proposal.

Among the new standards, Florida public schools will now teach students that some blacks benefited from slavery because it taught them useful skills, according to the 2023 State Social Studies Standards 216-page document released by the Florida Department of Education.

Other language that has drawn the ire of some educators and education advocates includes the teaching that blacks were also the perpetrators of the violence during the massacres.

The vice president’s trip to Jacksonville will highlight efforts to “defend fundamental freedoms, in particular the freedom to study and teach the full and true history of America,” a White House spokesman said in a statement that was first broadcast by NBC News.

“Just yesterday, the state of Florida decided that high school students would be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she said at a convention for traditional black sorority Delta Sigma Theta Inc. “They are insulting us by trying to gaslight and we will not tolerate that.”

Harris, whose mother was a civil rights activist, will also meet with parents, educators, civil rights leaders and elected officials, the official said.

The new structure has been heavily criticized by the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union representing about 150,000 teachers, as a “step back”.

Dade United Teachers also spoke out against the new standards, saying the board of education was trying to rewrite history.

“We are outraged and appalled at the Florida Department of Education’s manipulation to whitewash history, downplay the horrors of slavery and educate our children,” the union said in a statement. “The facts are that the only people who have benefited from slavery are those who have benefited economically from its immoral construct and those who continue to benefit from racism. Educators will not tolerate inaccurate teaching. We must be concerned and have the moral conviction to state this at the ballot box and in acts of resistance.”

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also criticized the new standards.

In a tweet Thursday, the mayor said: “Slavery did not benefit the enslaved — period. And here in Miami-Dade, we’re not rewriting history. African Americans fought to overcome slavery and segregation and still fight against racism. We must denounce disinformation so that the next generation can learn from our past.”

Slavery did not benefit the enslaved, period. And here in Miami-Dade, we don’t rewrite history. African Americans fought to overcome slavery and segregation and still fight against racism. We must denounce disinformation so that the next generation can learn from our past. https://t.co/cKfUL1p7rk

— Daniella Levine Cava (@LevineCava) July 20, 2023

Meanwhile, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. has dismissed claims by groups such as the Florida Educational Association Teachers’ Union and the NAACP Florida State Conference that the standards “omit or rewrite key historical facts about the black experience” and ignore the state’s compulsory education law.

Diaz defended the standards, commending the working group involved in curriculum development and the Department of Education’s African American History Task Force.

“As we age, we move on to some more complex topics, right down to the beginning of the slave trade, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement, and everything that has happened throughout our history,” Diaz said.

William Allen and Francis Presley Rice, members of the Florida African American History Standards Working Group, defended the new standards in a statement, calling them “rigorous and comprehensive” and saying they aimed to show “that some slaves developed highly specialized occupations from which they benefited.”

Harris’s visit will also touch on voting rights, gun violence and women’s body choices, a White House official said.

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