The Florida Board of Education’s newly approved standards for teaching African American history in middle and high schools have sparked a widespread backlash from educators, civil rights advocates, and community members. The board has been accused of distorting historical facts, particularly related to slavery and the 1920 Ocoee massacre, prompting accusations that the curriculum promotes a ‘blame the victim’ narrative.
According to the revised curriculum, middle school students in Florida will learn that slavery gave Black people a “personal benefit” as they “developed skills.” Critics argue that this is an extremely misleading portrayal, which could trivialize the atrocities and human rights violations committed during the era of slavery. For high school students, the curriculum paints an equally concerning picture of the deadly Ocoee massacre in 1920. The standards depict the horrific event as one that included “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” Critics have pointed out that such a portrayal is gravely distorted and lacks critical context, given that the massacre was largely a one-sided attack perpetrated by a white mob against Black residents, who were attempting to exercise their right to vote.
Public Response and Criticisms
The new curriculum was met with considerable resistance during the board’s meeting in Orlando, with the majority of public speakers vehemently opposing the revisions. State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) expressed her concern, stating: “I am very concerned by these standards, especially some of the notion that enslaved people benefited from being enslaved.” State Sen. Geraldine Thompson warned against blaming the victims, citing the misleading interpretation of the Ocoee massacre. She pleaded for a revision of the rule to ensure an accurate and complete portrayal of history. A community member, Kevin Parker, echoed Thompson’s sentiments, urging the board not to perpetuate the idea that slavery was beneficial.
Political Undertones and the “Stop WOKE Act”
The controversial curriculum changes align with Governor Ron DeSantis’s educational agenda, which critics say aims to shield white students from feeling any sense of guilt for historical wrongs committed against people of color. This is following the “Stop WOKE Act,” signed by DeSantis last year, which restricts how racial issues are taught in public schools and workplaces.
Defense from the Board and Officials
Board members, including MaryLynn Magar, who was appointed by Governor DeSantis, and other education officials defended the new standards, arguing that they provided an “exhaustive representation” of African American history. Education Commissioner Manny Diaz echoed the sentiments, stating: “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.”
Teachers’ Union and NAACP Condemnation
Nonetheless, the Florida Education Association, which is the biggest teachers union in the state, called the new guidelines a “major regression.” They said this is especially true for a state that prioritizes teaching African American history since 1994. Derrick Johnson, who holds the positions of president and CEO at the NAACP, was highly critical of the new study program too. He contended that it paints a false image of history and is a severe breach of human rights. He continued by saying, “Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for.”
The topic of teaching African American history in schools is part of a bigger national discussion about racism and the truth of history in learning. Even with a lot of criticism, the Florida Department of Education has supported the way they put together these guides. Alex Lanfranconi, who is in charge of communication for the department, spoke well of them saying they are “thorough and all-inclusive.” To find out more about this ongoing argument, check out the Florida Phoenix for detailed reports. As things keep changing, those who disagree believe that teachers should give students a true, complete, and fair view of history. What’s still unknown is how this dispute will change how African American history is taught in Florida and could possibly create standards for other states in the country.