Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s education department have ignited more controversy about how Black history is taught in schools.
Politico reports that the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday (July 19) to approve new social studies standards for teaching African American history in K-12 classes that opponents say whitewashes the state and nation’s racist history.
Grievances about the new curriculum include not requiring elementary and middle school students to learn anything about African American history past the Reconstruction era – the period following the end of slavery. That means they are not required to learn about the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras.
Also, the middle school curriculum has this dubious clarification: “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
When high school students learn about the Ocoee Massacre, the new stand states, “Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
In one of the worst cases of racial violence in Florida, a mob of armed white men captured and lynched Mose Norman in 1920 for attempting to vote, according to the Orange County Regional History Center. “An unknown number of African American citizens were murdered, and their homes and community were burned to the ground,” according to historians.
Despite the opposition, state education officials defended the new curriculum at the meeting. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said the opposition letter “did not provide any substantive issue or articulate a single reason to actually reject the standards,” according to Politico.
Board members also denied that the curriculum whitewashes history.
“Everything is there. The darkest parts of our history are addressed,” board member Kelly Garcia said, according to Politico.
This new directive to educators comes against the backdrop of controversial legislation that DeSantis, a 2024 GOP presidential candidate, has championed.
His Stop W.O.K.E. Act – an acronym standing for "Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees" – bans lessons in K-12 classrooms and colleges that could make (white) students feel guilt for racial oppression and prohibits topics like white privilege. Federal courts have so far blocked the full enactment of the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which the district judge presiding over the case called “positively dystopian.”
DeSantis also made headlines in January when the state’s education department prohibited public high schools from offering Advanced Placement African American Studies, a pilot course offered by the nonprofit College Board that oversees AP coursework. Education officials said the “content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
USA Today reports that a group of 11 organizations, including the NAACP and the Florida teachers union, sent an open letter to voice opposition to the new curriculum standards that “purposefully omit or rewrite key historical facts about the Black experience.”
“When you couple these standards, with the environment, the hostility toward daring to talk about certain subjects, it creates an environment where there's going to be a complete removal of these conversations and of these lessons in the classroom because nobody wants to run afoul of all of the laws or policies that have been put in place,” Genesis Robinson, political director for advocacy group Equal Ground, said at the board meeting in Orlando, according to USA Today.