By Reginald Williams,
Special to the AFRO

The Florida State Academic Standard—2023, a social studies curriculum developed by the Republican administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved by the Florida Board of Education (FBOE), has ignited a firestorm amongst Black people. The 216-page syllabus includes the history of African-Americans in America– with an interesting take on slavery

Critics of the new standards, designed for K-12 students, are focusing on the middle school social studies curriculum, which asserts that chattel slavery served as a “personal benefit” to those enslaved because it taught them valuable tools and character traits. 

“Florida’s recently implemented history curriculum sets a stage of divisiveness and cultural war,” explained Floyd Bronson, a 25-year educational veteran.

In response to the curriculum’s naysayers, DeSantis’ office claimed the statement was taken out of context.

Vice President Kamala Harris appeared at the Ritz Theatre and Museum in Jacksonville, Fla. on July 21, on a mission to challenge DeSantis and Florida’s alleged lack of responsibility in teaching accurate history. 

“They want to replace history with lies,” Harris told the audience. The vice president believes that DeSantis, a 2024 presidential candidate, is attempting to uplift Black history, but from a revisionist standpoint. 

Responding to Harris, Dr. William B. Allen, a Black man, and member of Florida’s African American History Standards Workshop, maintains that the narrative that Florida will teach that slavery was a “personal benefit” to enslaved Africans is “categorically false.”  

“It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans,” explained Dr. Allen, professor emeritus at Michigan State University. “What was said– and anyone who reads this will see this with clarity– is [that] that Africans proved resourceful, resilient and adaptive and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslavement.”

Martina Van Norden, M. Ed, an educational consultant, maintains that Dr. Allen’s perspective is intellectual manipulation. 

“Dr. William Allen’s statement is to be expected by a person of color, chosen to execute DeSantis’ agenda. As a member of the State’s Standards Workgroup, it is expected that his conservative perspective would be one where the academic standard set for the next generation of learners is based on intellectual manipulation,” explained Van Norden, an education policy and leadership doctoral candidate. 

Van Norden, fighting educational whitewashing in Texas, added:

“To credit our people with resilience etc., at the hand of violence and cruelty is to condition our young people to accept White supremacy and continue doing good by agreeing to its inequity and injustice. It makes sense to further indoctrinate young minds into a passive, vulnerable mindset that allows the system’s oppression to continue by making the oppressor less suspect.”

The curriculum’s controversy, ignited by the belief that it teaches an untruth, has swelled because some believe Harris illuminated the use of “personal benefit” to stoke the fire of division. 

Written in the curriculum in Section SS.68.AA.2, is a section meant to teach how to “Analyze events that involved or affected Africans from the founding of the nation through Reconstruction.” Subsection SS.68.AA.2.3 asks students to “examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).” Benchmark Clarification One states that instruction on this topic now “includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their ‘personal benefit.’”

Teisha Dupree-Wilson, Ph.D. is a professor for Baltimore’s Coppin State University. Her expertise is in African-American, Afro-Latin American and Black British history, among other topics.  

“If we’ve studied history, we know that most Africans already came to this country with skills. They didn’t need to become slaves to learn how to do metalwork, become blacksmiths, do carpentry, or cultivate rice. Europeans didn’t know how to cultivate rice,” said Dupree-Wilson. “Many of the skills that people claim that African-Americans obtained during slavery and that they benefited from are skills that they came to the United States and the Caribbeans with- we didn’t need to be enslaved to learn skills that would benefit us. Africans had fully developed lives before they were kidnapped.”

Durpee-Wilson said it may be hard, but Floridians and Americans across the country need to face the truth. 

“We need to be very intentional about not allowing people to gaslight us about what the truth is about slavery. Slavery was not this palatable, comfortable thing. There is no way to make it palatable. That is often what they try to do because they don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Well, a little discomfort isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. History is not always going to be comfortable. History is not designed to make you feel good or feel bad; it’s to tell you what happened.” 

According to Margie Holmes-Wilder, a community outreach activist based in Fayetteville, N.C., Florida is progressively “becoming the state of shame.” 

Dr. Roderick I. Wellington, a master mental health clinician, also weighed in on the issue.

“Florida’s educational standards as it relates to slavery and benefiting Black children in a good way is backward thinking and racist at its core,” he said. “The psychological trauma continues to resonate within the Black community, and it will take another 100 years to eradicate such backward ideology.”