FL leaders educate V.P. Harris over slavery 'cheap shot'

FL leaders educate V.P. Harris over slavery 'cheap shot'

Speaking last week in Jacksonville, Florida, Vice President Kamala Harris accused the state's leaders of defending slavery in school curriculum. That portion of the African-American history lesson is being twisted by critics, they say. 

FL leaders educate V.P. Harris over slavery 'cheap shot'

The Sunshine State is pushing back against the vice president, who came to Florida to cite a sentence in a history curriculum and accuse a GOP candidate of racism.

“It’s unfortunate that the vice president of the United States takes this political cheap shot, just so opportunistic, to come down to Florida and just plain lie,” Manny Diaz, the state’s commissioner of education, said on American Family Radio Wednesday.

Many left-leaning politicians and media have placed Florida under the microscope since Gov. Ron DeSantis, now seeking the Republican nomination for president, signed sweeping legislation aimed at reducing the impact of woke culture and policies in the state. 

In education that means focus on “white privilege” by creating new protections for students and workers, including that a person should not be instructed to “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin, Politico reported.

The law specifically requires schools to teach about how freedoms have been infringed by sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation and racial discrimination — and be delivered in an “age-appropriate manner.”

Last week, officials in Florida’s department of education announced new standards for teaching African-American History and other subjects. Some questionable news reporting – and Harris’ comments -- have focused on a sentence in the state’s 216-page document on academic standards from page six. It reads: “Instruction (for African-American History) includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

That sentence is presented as a “benchmark clarification” as teachers are required to “Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).

A black scholar sets record straight

Harris’ comments ignored the trades learned while twisting the words to include the phrase “benefited from slavery.”

“In the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery," she said in a speech in Jacksonville. "They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it."

In the midst of claims Florida was shrugging off slavery, a black academic named William B. Allen pushed back on those assertions and on Vice President Harris' speech. It was never said that slavery benefitted African slaves, said Allen, former chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He was also part of the 13-member task force that helped craft the new African-American History standards.

"What was said, and anyone who reads this will see this with clarity," he told ABC News, "it is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient and adapted and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit both while enslaved and after enslavement."

"In that particular provision about the skills," DeSantis similarly told reporters this week, "that was in spite of slavery not because of it." 

Much of those remarks by Allen were dropped by ABC News but a DeSantis press secretary shared the entire remarks on Twitter. 

Diaz similarly told show host Jenna Ellis the new guidelines will teach stories of perseverance and resiliency.

“We've always had (African-American History) standards that were embedded in other courses. We took the leap of creating comprehensive independent standards to talk about the ugliest period of American History and to talk about the period of slavery, period of Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement and all the atrocities that were committed,” Diaz said. “We put together a group and spent months working on this to reach consensus and to tell the whole story.”

Diaz says the curriculum praises slaves who acquired skills and figured out a way to move their lives forward.

He said that at “no point” is slavery taught as beneficial in the broad brush with which Harris painted the new standards.

“The stories of these individuals need to be told as part of the whole story, along with all of the atrocities. It’s going on simultaneously. This is happening to these individuals, and at the same time you tell the story of their resiliency,” Diaz said.

Diaz estimates that Florida is one of a dozen states that teach African-American History as its own course.

The number of states teaching it was only three as recently as 2020, according to CNN.

In his own remarks about the controversy, Gov. DeSantis said Vice President Harris "hopped on that plane very quickly" to come to Florida and "spew" a hoax about the curriculum. 

"She’s here to try to push a fake narrative about what Florida did," he said. "The interesting thing about this is Florida eliminated Critical Race Theory from our K-12 schools. We’ve got to stop indoctrinating kids in this country, and we can’t be teaching them to hate America." 

DeSantis, among others, is also pointing out the same phrase about slaves and their skills can be found in the AP African-American Studies course. That high school course might sound familiar to many because the Left defended it weeks ago when Florida's education officials rejected the curriculum because of its liberal bias. 

Teachers union opposes DeSantis

Florida has required the teaching of African-American History since 1994, according to the Florida Education Association, which came out quickly in opposition to the new standards, calling them a “disservice to Florida’s students and a big step backward.”

The teachers’ union has opposed DeSantis’ positions before while it seeks higher salaries. The FEA opposed the governor’s anti-woke efforts before they became law saying they would compromise education, make classrooms less welcoming and safe and drive teachers out of Florida. The FEA endorsed DeSantis’ opponent, Charlie Crist, in last fall’s election.

Florida educators are paid $51,230 on average to rank No. 47 nationally ahead of West Virginia, South Dakota and Mississippi. Fifteen other states pay their teachers between $50-55,000.

“Anybody who looks at these standards sees that they're comprehensive, and they were developed methodically and thoughtfully by a work group of scholars. It’s not something where we stepped in and tried to edit or whitewash. We wanted everything to be covered, unvarnished truths,” Diaz said. “It’s unfortunate that Kamala Harris tries to turn this into an opportunity to score cheap political points with plain-out lies.”