The Florida Board of Education has approved shocking new standards for African American history, despite overwhelming backlash from the public.
Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Gett
Middle school students in Florida will soon be taught that slavery gave Black people a “personal benefit” because they “developed skills.”
After the Florida Board of Education approved new standards for African American history on Wednesday, high school students will be taught an equally distorted message: that a deadly white mob attack against Black residents of Ocoee, Florida, in 1920 included “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
Dozens of Black residents were killed in the massacre, which was perpetrated to stop them from voting.
According to members of the board, that distorted portrayal of the racist massacre is factually accurate. MaryLynn Magar, a member of the board appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, said at the board’s meeting in Orlando on Wednesday that “everything is there” in the new history standards and “the darkest parts of our history are addressed,” the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
The majority of the speakers who provided public testimony on the planned curriculum were vehemently opposed to it, warning that crucial context is omitted, atrocities are glossed over, and in some cases students will be taught to “blame the victim.”
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“I am very concerned by these standards, especially some of the notion that enslaved people benefited from being enslaved,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said, per Action News Jax.
“When I see the standards, I’m very concerned,” state Sen. Geraldine Thompson said at the board meeting. “If I were still a professor, I would do what I did very infrequently; I’d have to give this a grade of ‘I’ for incomplete. It recognizes that we have made an effort, we’ve taken a step. However, this history needs to be comprehensive. It needs to be authentic, and it needs additional work.”
“When you look at the history currently, it suggests that the [Ocoee] massacre was sparked by violence from African Americans. That’s blaming the victim,” the Democrat warned.
“Please table this rule and revise it to make sure that my history, our history, is being told factually and completely, and please do not, for the love of God, tell kids that slavery was beneficial because I guarantee you it most certainly was not,” community member Kevin Parker said.
Approval of the new standards is a win for the DeSantis administration, which has effectively sought to create a new educational agenda that shields white students from feeling any sense of guilt for wrongs perpetrated against people of color. The Florida governor signed the “Stop WOKE Act” last year to do just that, restricting how issues of race are taught in public schools and workplaces.
In keeping with the administration’s crusade against “wokeness,” Education Commissioner Manny Diaz defended the new standards against criticism, saying, “This is an in-depth, deep dive into African American history, which is clearly American history as Governor DeSantis has said, and what Florida has done is expand it,” Action News Jax reported.
Paul Burns, the Florida Department of Education’s chancellor of K-12 public schools, also insisted the new standards provide an exhaustive representation of African American history.
“Our standards are factual, objective standards that really teach the good, the bad and the ugly,” he was quoted as saying Wednesday by Florida Phoenix. He denied the new standards portray slavery as beneficial.
Although education officials say teachers are meant to expand upon the new curriculum in the classroom, critics say teachers are unlikely to do that for fear of being singled out and possibly punished for being too “woke.”
The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, called the new standards “a big step backward for a state that has required teaching African American history since 1994” in a statement after Wednesday’s vote.
Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, also condemned the new curriculum, saying in a statement: “Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for.”
“Today’s actions by the Florida state government are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected. 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. We refuse to go back,” he said.