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Kamala the Insincere: the Truth About Florida’s Education Standards

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) just can’t catch a break.

To be sure, some of his recent misfortune is self-inflicted. Some of it reflects the uphill nature of his run for president. But some of it is the result of a concerted opposition campaign in which journalists are willing accomplices.

The latest fake DeSantis controversy involves Florida’s updated African American history standards. From a casual review of recent headlines, one would believe that Florida had, in fact, amended its education standards to whitewash the history of slavery in America — to suggest that it was somehow beneficial to the slaves themselves.

This is a deeply dishonest characterization — a misrepresentation so great as to be a lie. But you’d hardly know it following the headlines.

“DeSantis is defending new slavery teachings,” the Associated Press reported Thursday morning. “Civil rights leaders see a pattern of ‘policy violence.’”

Said a USA Today headline the same day: “New slavery curriculum in Florida is latest in century of ‘undermining history.’”

“Black History Is a Casualty in Ron DeSantis’s Christian Nationalist Quest,” reads the headline to a July 26 Washington Post opinion column.

Let’s set aside this dishonest framing for a moment and review the facts.

The Florida Department of Education has adopted new social studies standards as part of a larger effort to disentangle the state’s schools from the College Board, which Florida legislators believe has become too politicized.

The new standards were developed in a series of public meetings by a 13-member team, which included six African Americans, including Michigan State emeritus professor and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Dr. William B. Allen. The updated standards for Black history fill 19 pages and include more than 185 references to slavery, segregation and racism.

If you review the full list of standards, you will find that they address these evils head-on. The standards cover everything from “the struggles and successes for access to equal educational opportunities for African Americans,” to “how slave codes were strengthened in response to Africans’ resistance to slavery,” to “how slave codes resulted in an enslaved person becoming property with no rights.”

But there is one specific section that critics say is unforgivable. It reads, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

If that language sounds familiar, it should — it is nearly identical to the language of the College Board’s most up-to-date Advanced Placement African American Studies course framework.

The relevant passage from that course reads: “In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South. Once free, [African] Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.”

And note that this College Board Advanced Placement course is precisely the same one that Florida rejected earlier this year, much to the consternation of the same people protesting the Sunshine State’s new African American history standards.

Neither the media nor Democratic lawmakers nor teachers’ unions nor the NAACP have protested this same language for its (continued, as of this writing) inclusion in that Advanced Placement curriculum. On the contrary, they raised a great stink when Florida blocked the course.

It appears that this language only becomes offensive when there is some way to associate it with DeSantis.

In response to the new Florida standards, Vice President Kamala Harris claimed last week that Florida education officials want to “replace history with lies.”

“Middle school students in Florida to be told that enslaved people benefited from slavery,” she claimed. “How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization? It is not only misleading. It is false and it is pushing propaganda.”

For the record, in January, when Florida blocked the College Board from rolling out its Advanced Placement African American Studies course that covers, among other things, the “gay experience” in Black communities and “Afrofuturism,” Harris called the state’s policymakers “extremists.”

Again, this specific course — the one whose rejection earned the state a personal condemnation from the vice president — is the one that says that “enslaved people learned specialized trades and … used these skills to provide for themselves and others.” The language is under the header, “Essential knowledge.”

It is almost as if Harris’s anger is not sincere in either case.

And it’s almost as if she and like-minded critics are determined to find fault with Florida, even it means reversing their own opinions or narratives about what it is appropriate to teach students about slavery.

Neither the Associated Press nor USA Today felt any need to mention the Advanced Placement course’s “specialized trades” language when they covered Florida’s rejection of the African American studies course. A Washington Post opinion writer was so passionate in support of that course as to write of its cancelation that the “most lasting Confederate monuments are in our curriculums.”

Again, it wasn’t offensive until it could be associated with DeSantis.

For what it’s worth, two of the Black academics behind Florida’s updated standards have come forward to stand by their work, arguing that critics badly misunderstand it.

“Any attempt to reduce slaves to just victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage and resiliency during a difficult time in American history,” William B. Allen and Frances Presley Rice said in a statement, referring specifically to the “personal benefit” clause. “Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they were in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.”

Later, in a separate interview, Allen said explicitly that he and colleagues had never said slavery was beneficial. Rather, he maintained, the state standard merely says that that slaves “were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslavement.”

It’s one thing to find the language offensive, even after Allen’s explanation. It’s a free country.

It’s another thing entirely to pick and choose when to get angry about the same language, based only on whose political ox is gored.

Source : THEHILL