State Board Of Education Pushes Through Black History Curriculum Changes
By Jackson Gianchetta
On Wednesday, July 19th the Florida State Board of Education adopted new changes in curriculum regarding the teaching of Black History in the state’s social studies classrooms that many have condemned as regressive and a step backward for the state.
These new standards, the latest of which Florida has updated annually since the creation of the African History Task force by the state legislature in 1994, seek to update Florida’s social studies curriculum to reflect recent policy updates. One such law, the controversial “Stop WOKE Act” prohibits any teaching that could make students feel they bear “personal responsibility, guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” for any past actions committed by any members of their own race. Furthermore, the law blocks any instruction which may suggest that a group of people can be described as “either privileged or oppressed” based on race or skin color.
One new standard (SS.68.AA.2.3), suggests middle school instruction should highlight how slavery “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for [slaves’] personal benefit.” was directly called out by Vice President Kamala Harris in a July 20th speech as “revisionist history” and “an attempt to gaslight [the American people].”
Another (SS.912.AA.3.6), was called out by State Representative Geraldine Thompson for implying that events such as the 1920 Ocoee Massacre and 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre were responses to African American instigation. “That’s blaming the victims…,” Thompson commented, “Let’s not have a sugar-coated, white-washed version of the African American Experience. Let’s teach students the unvarnished truth about African American history.”
Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz responded to these claims, stating he believed new changes to the curriculum were “robust” and could “set the norm for standards in other states,” further asserting his stance that Florida schools should “teach the good, bad, and the ugly of American History.” Alex Lanfranconi, who serves as the communications director for the Florida Department of Education, concurred, tweeting “These standards teach it all… Don’t believe the union lies.”
While these standards may have a large impact on the teaching of African American history statewide, Ponte Vedra High School AP United States History Teacher Christopher Van Beveren assured that the school will continue using the same textbooks and curriculum for United States history courses. “I have to follow what the College Board says,” Van Beveren explained, “Certain aspects of history need to be taught.” This sentiment was echoed by another Ponte Vedra High School History Teacher, Brittany Edwards, who clarified that these changes would not impact Honors or Standard US History courses. “The changes to standards had more of an impact on the middle school level,” Edwards elaborated, “…in terms of US History [at PVHS] the emphasis is more on ensuring teachers stick to the curriculum in place.”
Nonetheless, the new guidance serves as a part of broader push by Florida Republicans to limit the discussion of topics deemed too controversial for the state’s K-12 education. Laws such as the Parental Rights in Education Act (colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”), Stop WOKE Act, and the statewide ban of AP African American Studies courses point to a concerted effort to prevent instruction on issues such as race and gender identity from being discussed in Florida’s classrooms. As Governor DeSantis gears up for the Republican primaries, these moves reek of political posturing, leaving Florida students caught in the crossfire between the governor and his ideological opponents.