By Chris Megerian and Brendan Farrington,
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris said extremists want to “replace history with lies” as she traveled to Florida on July 21 to assail Republican efforts to overhaul educational standards, plunging into a battle over schooling that has rippled through classrooms around the country.
“They dare to push propaganda to our children,” she said in Jacksonville. “This is the United States of America. We’re not supposed to do that.”
Her trip came two days after the Florida Board of Education approved a revised Black history curriculum to satisfy legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate who has accused public schools of liberal indoctrination. The new standards include instruction that enslaved people benefited from skills that they learned.
“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?” Harris asked.
She did not mention DeSantis by name, instead referring to “so-called leaders.” However, the speech was another example of how Harris has been the White House point person for addressing cultural issues such as race, schooling and abortion that DeSantis has taken on in the governor’s office and on the campaign trail.
In Salt Lake City on July 21, DeSantis doubled down on earlier arguments that the new curriculum was needed to prevent liberal indoctrination and accused Harris of attempting “to demagogue” and politicize history.
He said he wasn’t involved in devising the Board of Education’s standards but defended the components concerning how enslaved people benefited.
“They’re probably going to show is some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later, later in life. But the reality is: All of that is rooted in whatever is factual,” he said.
Earlier, DeSantis accused the Biden administration of being “obsessed” with his state as it ignores other problems, like border security and crime.
Harris, the first Black person to serve as vice president, spoke from the Ritz Theater and Museum, located in a historically African American neighborhood of Jacksonville.
She described “true patriotism” as “fighting for a nation that will be better for each generation to come,” and she said schools would better prepare students for the world if they don’t gloss over historical crimes.
“Let us not be seduced into believing that somehow we will be better if we forget,” she said. “We will be better if we remember. We will be stronger if we remember.”
Christian Ziegler, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said Harris was out to “lecture Floridian parents that their children belong to the government and the government has a right to indoctrinate and sexualize our children.”
He said “the government overreach on parental rights has already been overwhelmingly rejected in Florida.”
President Joe Biden and Harris have pitched their reelection campaign around preserving freedoms, and they view education issues as one way to highlight Republican extremism.
In a video announcing his bid for a second term, Biden warned about Republicans “dictating what health care decisions women can make, banning books, and telling people who they can love, all while making it more difficult for you to be able to vote.”
Jacksonville is a rare bright spot for Democrats in Florida, a longtime swing state that has become increasingly safe for Republicans. Donna Deegan, a Democrat, was elected as the city’s mayor in May, and Harris tried to boost morale among the party faithful on July 21.
“We gotta remind the folks of Florida that you’re not fighting out here by yourself,” Harris said. “We believe in you.”
Florida has shifted to the right under DeSantis’ leadership. As governor, he’s signed legislation on a number of education issues, such as banning drag shows at schools and imposing new requirements for transgender bathroom use.
In 2022, he signed what he called the Stop WOKE Act, which limits how race can be taught in school and which the governor used to attack critical race theory — a subject he has described as “crap.” The law essentially says students can’t be made to feel guilty about their race because of injustices of the past.
Critics said the law was DeSantis’ attempt to suppress an accurate account of Black history. The law is being challenged in court.
“The full measure of African American history is not a hand-picked Rosa Parks here and a Martin Luther King Jr. there,” said Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell, who is Black. “It is the sweeping collection of stories spanning several centuries, the lessons of cruelty and inhumanity interwoven in the determination of a people to live and breathe free. It is as much Florida’s story as the nation’s story and it needs to be fully told.”
Earlier this year, the DeSantis administration rejected a College Board Advanced Placement course on African American history, which DeSantis said was “indoctrination.”
Farrington reported from Tallahassee, Florida.