Like most curricula, Florida’s State Academic Standards—Social Studies, 2023 makes for rather dull reading. Fundamentally, it is a list of topics that teachers must cover. It has eleven “strands,” of which African American History is one.
Recently, Florida’s curriculum for teaching African American History became a huge controversy that distorts the text to fit an agenda.
The Stop WOKE Act
Florida’s Department of Education developed the new standards under the shadow of the controversial “Stop WOKE Act,” which Governor DeSantis signed on April 22, 2022. One provision prohibits “classroom instruction and curricula from being used to indoctrinate or persuade students in a manner inconsistent with certain principles or state academic standards.”
According to Governor DeSantis, indoctrination is precisely the goal of leftist educators. The Governor made that clear in his statement to the Common Sense Society in January 2022. “The goal is to delegitimize the founding of this country, the principles that the founders relied on, our institutions, our constitution, to tear basically at the fabric of our society, and they want to replace it with effectively left-wing ideology as the founding ethos of America. That would be a disaster.”
Leftist ideologues and academics were livid at the passage of the act. They combed through the history guidelines hoping to find something that could be used out of context to “spin” in their favorite direction.
Painting Facts as Lies
The statement they chose comes from the directions given to teachers in grades six through eight.
Benchmark SS.68.AA.2.3 states, “Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).”
This statement is absolutely factual. Enslaved people did these tasks, and others as well. Guides at sites like Mount Vernon and Colonial Williamsburg emphasize such facts to visitors.
However, the leftists found something in the “clarification” provided to teachers after this particular statement.
“Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied to their personal benefits.”
Again, this information is accurate. Some slaves and former slaves did use such skills to better their lives, both during slavery and after the end of the institution in 1865. It is impossible to know how large a percentage of these unfortunate people were able to exercise such abilities, but some—notably Ven. Pierre Toussaint (1766-1853), a saintly hairdresser,—certainly did.
Inflaming the Issue
The ideologues’ eyes lit up with glee, arguing that such a statement indicated a belief that slavery benefited the enslaved. They rushed into the press to denounce the Governor, who played no role in drafting the standards.
Vice President Kamala Harris joined the fray, speaking at the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority national convention.
“Extremists pass book bans to prevent [children] from learning our true history—book bans in this year of [O]ur Lord 2023. And while they do this, check it out, they push forward revisionist history. Just yesterday in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it.”
She then rushed to Florida, where she spoke to a group of women at the African Methodist Church in Orlando.
“Right here in Florida, they plan to teach students that enslaved people benefited from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, in an attempt to divide our nation with unnecessary debates. We will not stop calling out and fighting back against extremists and so-called leaders for trying to prevent our children from learning our true and full history.”
After her speech, the Vice President tweeted, “The same extremists who ban books in our schools now want to replace history with lies. While fighting back in Florida, I spoke with educators who simply want to teach the truth without fear of losing their jobs.”
A Compliant Press
Of course, the liberal media jumped on board.
Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik wrote as though he was proud of his lack of objectivity.
“If there’s a bet that you will almost always win, it’s that no matter how crass and dishonest a right-wing claim may seem to be, the reality will be worse. That’s the case with Florida’s effort to whitewash the truth about slavery via a set of standards for teaching African American history imposed on the state’s public school teachers and students.”
When Gov. DeSantis declined to be embarrassed and actually defended the standards, CNN anchor Erica Hill was quoted by the ultra-liberal “Raw Story.”
“I was struck really by Ron DeSantis doubling down on this. You know, these are the standards, this is the history, hey, you could be a blacksmith and you could go use that somewhere. It is remarkable, and I think [former Congressman] Will Hurd, perhaps, put it really well when he said in a tweet … basically saying, I can’t believe I have to say this, but slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills.”
Finding Hope in Desperate Situations
No teacher should argue that slavery was a good thing. It was an awful, dehumanizing institution that harmed millions. At the same time, its victims often displayed remarkable resilience under extremely challenging circumstances. The ability to use skills learned while enslaved was one of many signs of that resilience. Children, especially black children, should be taught that the worst situations contain signs of hope.
However, hope is a virtue that leftist ideologues want to extinguish. Those who have hope could realize that they do not need to rely solely upon the largess of socialist governments. Those who see a brighter tomorrow will struggle to achieve it. Those like Venerable Pierre Toussaint who hear the promises of God and trust in them will never adopt the nihilism that leftist thinkers try to impose upon them.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore – WIKIMEDIA COMMONS