Florida public schools are places where children of all races, religions, and backgrounds learn and grow up together. No matter what they look like or where they come from, all our children should be free to learn the full and honest history of our people. They deserve an education that teaches them about the past and helps them understand the present. Accurate history is powerful knowledge that prepares our children for life in the world and enables them to create a better future by avoiding the mistakes of the past.
Unfortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis and his political appointees have made it clear that they do not think Florida students deserve to know the full truth about our country’s history. Instead, DeSantis proposes a history curriculum that downplays the horror of slavery while ignoring key developments such as the 1957 resolution passed by the Florida Legislature that declared the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in which judges ruled that racial segregation in public schools is illegal. , was “void, null and void, and of no effect or effect”. When our state deliberately forgets historical events like Florida’s reaction to Brown, how can we reckon with the racial disparities that are still present in public education today?
In another example of the ahistorical nature of the proposed standards, the Society of Friends (Quakers) occurs five times, while “racism” occurs only once. Are we really supposed to believe that the Quaker legacy deserves five times more importance than the legacy of racism when it comes to understanding the African American experience?
However, this is exactly what DeSantis wants – a story devoid of context, a story that deprives students of the freedom to learn uncomfortable truths. He is even willing to defy state law to deprive students of the opportunity to study. In 2020, with great fanfare, lawmakers passed and DeSantis signed into law HB 1213, which, among other things, required the Florida African American History Task Force to look for ways to include the Okoee Election Day massacre in mandatory Florida history instructions.
The Task Force produced a comprehensive report outlining exactly how to do this. But there are only a few weeks left before the start of the 2023-2024 academic year, and the recommendations have not yet been implemented. While the proposed standards do (finally) mention Okoye, where at least 30 African Americans are believed to have been killed, they don’t come close to providing the comprehensive history Florida students need to learn to understand the connections between past and present. DeSantis appears to be afraid that a full and honest analysis of our state’s history will lead people to make a connection between past voter intimidation and his current attacks on the right to vote of blacks and browns.
Instead of demonstrating true leadership by following through on the task force’s recommendations and ensuring that Florida students learn the full truth about Florida’s history, DeSantis engaged in a years-long campaign to sow discord between parents and educators. Shouting indoctrination and lamenting anything he doesn’t like as “waking up” may have been a winning strategy for DeSantis in the election, but his ambition comes at a cost to an entire generation of kids whose freedom to learn is under threat. Fortunately, every day more and more people in Florida, and indeed across the country, reject DeSantis’ fear-mongering and his attempts to divide us. Instead, we are coming together to overcome our differences and demand that Florida politicians stop censoring what students learn in our public schools.
Florida may only be a springboard for DeSantis, but for millions of educators, parents, and students, this is our forever home. We are rooted in our communities and fully invest in a brighter future for our children. We strive to ensure that world-class public education reflects and celebrates student identity, experience, history and culture to meet students where they are and prepare them for success wherever they are. We fight for the freedom of students to learn.
Andrew Spar is President of the Florida Educational Association, representing over 150,000 education professionals.