Students will be taught the ‘benefits of slavery’
Vice President Kamala Harris made an unscheduled trip to Florida late last week to tackle changes to the state’s education standards that critics say play down the horror of slavery.
It’s the latest example of how Harris has been the White House point person for addressing cultural issues such as race, schooling and abortion that are championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate.
The Florida Board of Education voted on July 19 to approve a revised Black history curriculum that matches legislation that DeSantis said is necessary to prevent liberal indoctrination.
The new curriculum includes instruction on how slaves benefited from skills that they learned. It also focuses more in early grades on achievements of African-Americans rather than the injustices they faced through slavery and segregation.
Harris already addressed the decision on July 20 in Indianapolis, where she spoke at the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority national convention. She said “extremists” were pushing “revisionist history” that “enslaved people benefited from slavery.”
“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it,” Harris said.
She added that “there is so much at stake in this moment: Our most basic rights and freedoms, fact versus fiction, foundational principles about what it means to be a democracy.”
Harris didn’t mention DeSantis by name. Rather, she referred to “so-called leaders” who she says are depriving Americans of their rights and manipulating history for political purposes.
President Joe Biden and Harris have pitched their reelection campaign around preserving freedoms.
In a video announcing his bid for a second term, Biden warned about Republicans “dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love, all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote.”
Harris spoke in Jacksonville last week at an event featuring new Mayor Donna Deegan in a city where Democrats can claim a bright spot in an otherwise deeply red state. Although a longtime swing state, Florida has increasingly been safe for Republicans, and has recently veered to the right under DeSantis’ leadership. Desantis has signed legislation on a number of education issues, such as the Stop WOKE Act which severely limits how race can be taught at school in banning any and all instruction in CRT (Critical Race Theory), outlawing drag shows at schools and imposing new requirements for transgender bathroom use.
Earlier this year, the DeSantis administration rejected a College Board Advanced Placement course on African-American history claiming it “has no educational value” and that it encouraged “indoctrination.” Another aspect of the new educational rubrics requires educators to instruct about “acts of violence perpetrated by African-Americans” during the Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights Movement eras.
“They dare to push propaganda to our children,” Harris said. “Adults know what slavery really involved. It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby away from their mother. It involved some of the worst examples of depriving people of humanity in our world.”
Harris stressed that, in the context of slavery, “how is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?”
Critics of the Stop WOKE Act say it is DeSantis’ attempt to suppress an accurate account of Black history. The law is being challenged in court.
Already, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times has found that much of the new educational guidelines are incorrect. For instance, the state listed 16 names of how slavery may have benefitted Black people but neglected to mention that many of these persons listed were born free. Among the names are Lewis Latimer, born to liberated parents in 1848 before he went on to assist in the development of the telephone. Others were James Forten, an abolitionist and businessman from Philadelphia who invented a tool to help maneuver large ship sails. In 1821 Henry Blair received a patent in Maryland for the creation of the dry-cleaning process. John Cuffe was the first African-American to graduate from college at the College of New Jersey in the early 1800s.
Black leaders have soundly condemned DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education for the new guidelines. The Congressional Black Caucus has vowed to continue advocating for the passage of the Black History is American History Act which would require Black history to be part of the American History and Civics Academies’ competitive grants. Administered by the Department of Education, the grants are used to help improve student achievement in subjects such as American history in elementary schools. Educators and students can learn about Black history in workshops related to American history, promote resources available from the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, and help to convince the National Assessment of Educational Progress to include Black history in their tests.
“The full measure of African-American history is not a hand-picked Rosa Parks here and a Martin Luther King Jr. there,” said Florida Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell. “It is the sweeping collection of stories spanning several centuries, the lessons of cruelty and inhumanity interwoven in the determination of a people to live and breathe free. It is as much Florida’s story as the nation’s story and it needs to be fully told.”