Florida’s New Black History Curriculum Standards Ignite Protests

Historian and activist Marvin Dunn spearheaded a “Teach No Lies” march on Wednesday to voice dissent against Florida’s newly established K–12 curriculum standards addressing Black history and the portrayal of slavery. Key highlights:

  • The new state social studies standards mandate that middle school students be instructed about “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
  • Additional lessons will cover “how slavery was present in Asian, European, and African cultures” and the “resiliency” demonstrated by African Americans.
  • Protesters convened near Booker T. High School, marching to the School Board administration building for speeches.
  • Marvin Dunn emphasized, “Don’t teach lies to our students. We don’t desire lies about Black history to be imparted to our children.”

Axios reported Dunn’s statement that numerous individuals are anticipated to join, such as members of the Teamsters National Black Caucus, who are currently in Miami for a meeting. However, few educators are expected to be present due to the imminent commencement of classes.

The Root of Contention

Critics argue that the curriculum attempts to whitewash the atrocities of slavery, asserting that it glosses over the dehumanizing aspects of the institution.

  • Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, has continuously defended the curriculum’s language, suggesting that detractors are purposefully misconstruing specific portions of the comprehensive syllabus.
  • Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black vice president, condemned the curriculum during a recent visit to Florida.
  • Senator Tim Scott, the solitary Black Republican in the Senate, rebuked Governor DeSantis, providing a harrowing account of slavery’s brutality.

Deeper Dive into the Controversy

Protesters and critics of the curriculum claim that it portrays a distorted version of slavery, suggesting that some Black individuals benefited from the institution by acquiring useful skills. Additional controversial elements include:

  • A focus on violence perpetrated both against and by African Americans during racial massacres, encompassing events like the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot and the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.
  • Early in the year, DeSantis’ administration prohibited a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies in high schools, branding it contradictory to state legislation.
  • DeSantis has endorsed the “Stop WOKE Act” which restricts discourse on race in educational settings and corporate environments and has prohibited state universities from funding diversity initiatives using state or federal finances.

Reactions from the Public and Political Figures

Approximately 50 demonstrators began the march from Booker T. Washington Senior High School in Miami’s historically Black Overtown neighborhood, with their numbers swelling as they reached the school board building. Representative Justin Pearson, who had previously been expelled for leading a gun control protest, addressed the crowd, emphasizing the continuous struggle of Black Americans for justice and equality.

Florida’s new curriculum standards for Black history were crafted by a 13-member group selected from 40 applicants. The Florida Department of Education’s 216-page document on the state’s 2023 standards in social studies encapsulates these new criteria.

In the midst of this academic maelstrom, DeSantis, on his presidential campaign trail, has praised Florida’s renewed public school syllabus on Black history, categorically stating its apolitical nature and commending the scholars behind it.

However, opposition remains strong, with many believing that the new curriculum downplays a dark epoch in America’s history. As Vice President Harris aptly summarized, “How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?”

Further Criticism and Responses

The new curriculum has been met with fervent resistance from a significant portion of the community. Many educators, parents, and activists assert that any insinuation that slavery brought about personal benefits for enslaved individuals is not only factually incorrect but morally repugnant. They argue that such teachings can dilute the horrors of the institution and minimize the generations of trauma and systemic racism that followed.

Amidst the Outcry, Some Support the Curriculum

While the majority of the spotlight has been on the critics, there are those who support the new curriculum. These individuals often stress the importance of presenting a “balanced” history, emphasizing that while slavery’s evils are undeniable, it’s essential to show every facet of the past, even if some perspectives are contentious. Some believe that showcasing the resilience and skills developed by the enslaved might highlight their strength in the face of adversity.

Next Steps for Florida

With the school year starting soon, educators are left in a precarious position. Those opposing the new curriculum face the dilemma of adhering to state mandates or taking personal stands based on their beliefs and professional judgment. Simultaneously, supporters of the curriculum hope that its implementation might pave the way for more diverse and nuanced historical education in the future.

As public figures like Vice President Kamala Harris and Senator Tim Scott continue to voice their strong opinions on the matter, grassroots movements are also gaining momentum. Parents, teachers, and students are banding together, petitioning, and organizing more protests to ensure their voices are heard.

Given the fierce passion on both sides, it’s clear that this issue is far from resolution. The coming months will undoubtedly witness more debates, discussions, and decisions that will impact the future of education in Florida and potentially set precedents for other states grappling with similar issues.

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