On July 19, 2023, Florida released guidelines for its 2023-2024 African American history classes. The document outlines key benchmarks and clarifications students will learn throughout the school year. Since the release, Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, and the Florida Board of Education faced criticism for a standard that suggests slaves learned skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit”.
The wording here is dangerous and inaccurate. Young students should receive guidance in fact-based history. The proposed standard attempts to make the slave trade more digestible for learners. This latest ploy to extend an “anti-woke” agenda is simply anti-history, anti-fact, and anti-black.
Enslaved persons were not given the benefit of choosing their trades or their posts. Nor would any application of this skill have been aimed at the immediate improvement of their living conditions or their liberation. Freedom would have benefited slaves, not their forced and uncompensated labor.
Students have a right to an uncensored education. Slavery robbed Africans of their humanity, freedoms, and cultures.
A better exercise may explore how different roles on plantations affected the social order and relations among the enslaved themselves. Or, the curriculum could direct students in knowledge, skills, and cultural beliefs that African captives brought with them to early North America. Of course, such perspectives require a view of the Transatlantic Slave Trade that recognizes an important fact: Africans possessed a full culture before their arrival in the colonies. They remained capable of self-governance and communication beyond the perceptions of slave masters. An honest portrayal of history that recognizes African slaves as living, breathing individuals who still suffered oppressions stands a better chance of creating healthy classroom conversations around the topic of slavery in the United States of America.
Unfortunately, GOP leadership continues to perpetuate a flawed view of history that recognizes only the voice of white slaveholders and avoids accountability for their violation of human rights.