During an interview with Vice President Kamala Harris on February 17, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked, “What does Gov. Ron DeSantis not know about black history and the black experience when he says that slavery and the aftermath of slavery should not be taught to Florida schoolchildren?” The premise of the question, that DeSantis has called for an end to lessons about slavery and its aftermath in Florida public schools, is false.
A postscript, in my interview last Friday with Vice President Harris, I was imprecise in summarizing Gov. DeSantis’ position about teaching slavery in schools. Gov. DeSantis is not opposed to teaching the fact of slavery in schools. But he has opposed the teaching of an African American studies curriculum as well as the use of some authors and source materials that historians and teachers say makes it all but impossible for students to understand the broader historic and political context behind slavery and its aftermath in the years since.
DeSantis has drawn criticism for pursuing policies to curb what he has characterized as indoctrination in Florida public schools surrounding the issue of race. Last year, he signed the “Stop Woke Act,” which aimed to curtail the proliferation of critical race theory in classrooms. The bill mandates the following outline for the teaching of American history:
The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.
The bill explicitly mandates that black history, including slavery and its aftermath, be taught in Florida public schools:
The history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition, and the contributions of African Americans to society. Instructional materials shall include the contributions of African Americans to American society.
In her postscript, Mitchell claimed that DeSantis opposed the adoption of an African American studies curriculum in Florida schools. This is correct. The Florida Department of Education has declined to adopt an Advanced Placement African American studies course that was developed by the College Board. The state of Florida sent a letter to the College Board on January 12 informing the latter that the curriculum both violated state laws and lacked educational value in the eyes of the state government.
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