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Widespread backlash as Florida holds firm on teaching that slavery benefited Black people


Florida – In a move that has sparked widespread criticism and protests, the Florida Board of Education has decided to maintain its controversial educational standards regarding the history of African Americans, specifically the teaching that enslaved people derived “personal benefits” from slavery. This decision has ignited significant backlash from various community groups and educators across the state.

Widespread backlash as Florida holds firm on teaching that slavery benefited Black people

Persistent Controversy

On May 29, the board ratified a 217-page document outlining the public school standards for students from kindergarten through 12th grade, which includes contentious components about the history of slavery. Originally approved in July 2023, these standards suggest that middle school students be taught that enslaved individuals received “personal benefit” from slavery because they “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

This framing of historical facts has led to considerable dissent, marked by protests especially from teachers’ groups who are at the forefront of implementing these standards. Critics argue that such a portrayal grossly misrepresents the brutal realities of slavery and could potentially distort students’ understanding of significant historical truths.

Community Response and Political Reactions

The backlash has not been limited to educational circles. Black communities throughout Florida, supported by elected officials and religious leaders, have been vocal in their opposition. For nearly a year, they have been petitioning the state’s Department of Education, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Governor Ron DeSantis, and the State Board of Education, urging a revision of these controversial standards.

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Adding to the political dimension of this debate, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Florida) expressed his disagreement with the standards on a social media platform known as X. Donalds acknowledged the overall quality of the new African American standards but criticized the inclusion of supposed benefits derived from slavery, stating, “The new African-American standards in FL are good, robust, & accurate. That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong & needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn’t the goal & I have faith that FLDOE will correct this.”

Governor’s Stance and Board Defense

Governor Ron DeSantis in July defended the guidelines on black history, asserting that Republicans should resist accepting “false narratives” and “lies” from the left. He emphasized the importance of fighting back against these misconceptions by speaking the truth, positioning himself as a defender of Florida against false accusations and misinformation.

Ryan Petty, Vice Chairman of the Board, also defended the educational standards, claiming they were developed with significant input from educators. “The notion that we’re not out engaged with educators and engaged with teachers in developing these rules is false,” Petty stated, countering claims that the educational policy might have been crafted without adequate consultation from those it affects most directly.

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As this debate continues, the educational community and broader public in Florida remain divided on the appropriateness of these standards. The issue reflects broader national discussions about how history, particularly African American history, should be taught in schools, highlighting the challenges of balancing educational content with historical accuracy and sensitivity.

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