Black leaders from around the nation are condemning Florida’s new education laws that further limit how Black history can be taught in schools.
The new guidelines require lessons on race be taught in an “objective” manner that does not seek to “indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.”
One updated standard requires teachers to instruct on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Some leaders, like David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, accused the state’s Board of Education of continuing an “assault by Florida fascists under the leadership of lies led by Gov. DeSantis.” He added that the board is “seeking to affirm white supremacy via instituting anti-Black, Black History standards.”
“This is nothing more than white nationalist, segregationist politicians rewriting history in Florida, pushing the country closer toward civil war, and teaching our kids fallacies such as enslavement providing kidnapped and exploited Africans with useful skills,” said Johns, who also served as executive director of former President Obama’s White House initiative on African American Education Excellence.
But the backlash to the new guidelines flows all the way to the White House.
Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to Florida on Friday to address the controversy, but on Thursday blasted Florida for pushing a “revisionist history.”
“Just yesterday, in the State of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” Harris said at Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.’s 56th national convention in Indianapolis.
“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it,” she continued. “We who share a collective experience in knowing we must honor history and our duty in the context of legacy.”
Florida’s education policies have garnered outrage for some time. Laws limiting how sexuality and gender can be taught have sparked backlash, and teachers have been forbidden from sharing preferred pronouns or asking students theirs.
The new guidelines follow a particularly controversial decision the state made earlier this year that prohibited an Advanced Placement African American studies course from running for violating state law and lacking educational value.
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said Florida’s education laws “are an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected.”
“It is imperative that we understand that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history,” Johnson said in a statement.
“We refuse to go back,” Johnson added. “The NAACP has been fighting against malicious actors such as those within the DeSantis Administration for over a century, and we’re prepared to continue that fight by any means necessary. Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who is running for president, has been outspoken in his mission to fight “wokeness.” Under his governorship, schools have been banned from teaching lessons on systemic racism — the idea that some people are privileged while others are oppressed because of their race or skin color.
“Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida’s educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children,” DeSantis tweeted from his personal account. “Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies.”
“The Harris-Biden administration is obsessed with Florida…yet they ignore the chaos at the border, crime-infested cities, economic malaise, and the military recruitment crisis,” he continued. “Maybe if Biden’s granddaughter moved to Florida he’d actually visit her.”
Florida State Sen. Shevrin Jones said DeSantis’s presidential campaign is staked on “draconian” policies.
“By whitewashing African American history and chipping away at LGBTO+ youth safety in schools, Florida’s Department of Education is making it abundantly clear that they have no desire to do their job and ensure student success in the classroom and beyond,” Jones said in a statement.
Elements that have sparked backlash to the newest set of guidelines include rulings that students must learn about “acts of violence perpetuated against and by African Americans.”
That includes learning about the 1920 Ocoee massacre, in which dozens of Black Americans were killed by a white mob and their homes set on fire in the Florida community.
The violence started, according to CNN, when a prominent Black landowner named Moses Norman tried to cast his ballot and was turned away by white poll workers. When he came back, Norman reportedly had a gun with him. When a white mob took off to find Norman later, the violence ensued.
These same standards of learning about violence toward and perpetuated by African Americans will also apply to lessons on the Tulsa race massacre and the Rosewood race massacre.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) also condemned the latest “revisionist” guidelines, promising to fight them with a renewed push to enact the Black History is American History Act.
Like Harris, the CBC said the guidelines are “tantamount to gaslighting” and a “shameful disservice” to Florida students.
“The Florida Board of Education’s attempt to minimize the darkest chapter in our nation’s history is an affront to the intelligence of the American people and an overt attempt to maintain white supremacy,” the CBC said in a statement. “The CBC is calling for the Florida State Board of Education to immediately reverse its decision and put an end to the attacks on Black history in the state.”
“We are proud of the rigorous process that the Department took to develop these standards,” Alex Lanfranconi, Director of Communications for the Florida Department of Education said in a statement.
“It’s sad to see critics attempt to discredit what any unbiased observer would conclude to be in-depth and comprehensive African American History standards. They incorporate all components of African American History: the good, the bad and the ugly,” he added. “These standards will further cement Florida as a national leader in education, as we continue to provide true and accurate instruction in African American History.”