Florida’s public schools will now teach students that some Black people benefited from slavery because it taught them useful skills, part of new African American history standards approved Wednesday that were blasted by a state teachers’ union as a “step backward.”
The Florida State Board of Education’s new standards includes controversial language about how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” according to a 216-page document about the state’s 2023 standards in social studies, posted by the Florida Department of Education.
Other language that has drawn the ire of some educators and education advocates includes teaching about how Black people were also perpetrators of violence during race massacres.
That language says, “Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.”
The Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union representing about 150,000 teachers, called the new standards “a disservice to Florida’s students and are a big step backward for a state that has required teaching African American history since 1994.”
“How can our students ever be equipped for the future if they don’t have a full, honest picture of where we’ve come from? Florida’s students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help heal our nation’s divisions rather than deepen them,” Andrew Spar, president of the union, said in the statement.
“Gov. DeSantis is pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another, and in the process he’s cheating our kids,” Spar said. “They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad.”
The union said it is troubling that at the high school level, the standards conflate the 1920 Ocoee Massacre, when at least 30 African Americans were killed for attempting to vote, with “acts of violence perpetrated by African Americans.” And in middle school, the standards require students be taught slavery was beneficial to African Americans because it helped them develop skills, the union said.
Updates to the African American history curriculum were required by a controversial 2022 law that Gov. Ron DeSantis dubbed the “Stop Wrongs To Our Kids and Employees Act,” or “Stop WOKE Act,” NBC South Florida reported.
The new standards were defended in the statement as “comprehensive and rigorous instruction on African American History. We proudly stand behind these African American History Standards,” the statement said.
“The intent of this particular benchmark clarification is to show that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted. This is factual and well documented,” it added.
The statement continued, “Some examples include: blacksmiths like Ned Cobb, Henry Blair, Lewis Latimer and John Henry; shoemakers like James Forten, Paul Cuffe and Betty Washington Lewis; fishing and shipping industry workers like Jupiter Hammon, John Chavis, William Whipper and Crispus Attucks; tailors like Elizabeth Keckley, James Thomas and Marietta Carter; and teachers like Betsey Stockton and Booker T. Washington.”
It’s “disappointing” that some detractors would devalue the research from the work group and reduce it to “a few isolated expressions without context,” the statement said.
A representative for Gov. DeSantis could be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
In January, DeSantis’ administration blocked a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies from being taught in high schools, saying it violates state law and was historically inaccurate. The state pointing to six areas of concern and works by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, bell hooks, Angela Davis and other Black authors.
That same month, DeSantis and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. discussed the issue at a news conference. They said that the course was a Trojan horse for “indoctrinating” students with a left-wing ideology under the guise of teaching about the Black experience and African American history.