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How Ron DeSantis is Limiting Education on Minorities in Florida

Florida’s new curriculum takes steps backward in education.

ron desantis (left) and classroom of young kids (right)
Ron DeSantis (left) and classroom of kids (right). Credit: Shutterstock / Hunter Crenian and Ground Picture

In the past month, Florida’s Board of Education made significant changes to the state’s curriculum. The updates include teaching slavery as beneficial and limiting discussions of LGBTQ+ topics.

New History Standards

In July, the Florida State Board of Education approved a new curriculum for African American history, which includes teaching that slavery was beneficial to Black people. The guidelines suggest that those enslaved learned valuable and useful skills in their work.

The board’s 216-page document details the changes they want made in history lessons across Florida. In short, they assert that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

The changes concern the social studies curriculum’s African American studies section in the sixth through eighth grades. Students in these grades will look at the history and evolution of slave codes and the consequences of the slave trade in the colonies.

The lesson about “personal benefit” serves as a “benchmark clarification” in examining the various duties performed by enslaved people. In this way, students will consider the so-called positive aspects of enslaved work.

In defense of this, Dr William Allen and Dr Frances Presley Rice, members of the group who established the new standards, said, “The intent of this particular benchmark clarification is to show that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted. This is factual and well-documented. Any attempt to reduce slaves to just victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage, and resiliency during a difficult time in American history. Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they were in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.” 

Additionally, there will be lessons suggesting that Black people helped incite violence during race massacres. Specifically, at the high school level, the standards reflect that the 1920 Ocoee Massacre, when at least 30 African Americans were killed for attempting to vote, falls under “acts of violence perpetrated by African Americans.”

Responses to New Lessons

Shortly after the board’s approval, Vice President Kamala Harris shared her belief that the lesson plan is an attempt to “gaslight” students.

“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us and we will not stand for it. We who share a collective experience in knowing we must honor history in our duty in the context of legacy. There is so much at stake in this moment.”

VP Kamala Harris, at Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc’s national convention

Further, the Florida Education Association, a teachers’ union representing about 150,000 teachers statewide, also bashed the new standards. They designated the curriculum as a “disservice” to Florida’s students.

“How can our students ever be equipped for the future if they don’t have a full, honest picture of where we’ve come from? Florida’s students deserve a world-class education that equips them to be successful adults who can help heal our nation’s divisions rather than deepen them. Gov. DeSantis is pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another, and in the process, he’s cheating our kids. They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad.”

Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association

Florida Senator Geraldine Thompson also spoke out against the lesson plan, stating it “whitewashes the brutality that occurred when families were separated by being sold off during slavery.” Moreover, it does not provide instruction on African civilizations prior to the slave trade. In consideration of this, Thompson argues, “The standards should not advance the misconception that our history as a people began with slavery and not with one of the most advanced civilizations in the world.”

Even fellow Republican Tim Scott called out DeSantis’s updated curriculum, saying “there is no silver lining” in slavery. In making his point, he details the horrors that accompany slavery, including mutilation, rape, and abuse.

AP Psychology Debate

Along with changing the history curriculum, Governor Ron DeSantis is attempting to dismiss AP Psychology from Florida high schools. This move comes after DeSantis signed a state law that forbids “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The motion has been coined the “Don’t Say Gay” law as it only seems to target LGBTQ+ identities. In fact, the hypocrisy of this law can be seen in recent book bans in Florida.

Looking at the hundreds of banned titles, it appears that what they share is not explicit sexuality, but rather portraying LGBTQ+ people as normal or showing racism and sexism as oppressive forces in our society. Meanwhile, sexy books promoting patriarchy are still available to students.

Considering this, it appears that discussion of gender and sexuality is permitted in classrooms. That is, so long as the gender is cis and the sexuality is straight. In such a way, DeSantis and his supporters are singling out AP Psychology since it acknowledges that LGBTQ+ people exist and are normal.

College Board’s Response to DeSantis

Following the passing of DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, the College Board said the Florida Department of Education had “effectively banned AP Psychology in the state.”

Though, DeSantis did approve AP Psychology “if it excludes any mention” of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Nonetheless, the College Board asserted that courses excluding those topics “violate their guidelines and should not be considered for college credit.”

“(We) will not modify our courses to accommodate restrictions on teaching essential, college-level topics. Doing so would break the fundamental promise of AP: colleges wouldn’t broadly accept that course for credit and that course wouldn’t prepare students for careers in the discipline.”

College Board spokesperson

The College Board’s refusal to concede to DeSantis’s wish suggests their belief that sex and gender are foundational to psychological development. And that, whether DeSantis accepts it or not, being queer is normal and healthy.

DeSantis Moving Forward

Since DeSantis has plans to become president, his legislation might spread beyond Florida. Aside from botched lesson plans, this could include armed teachers in schools and fewer diversity programs.

“In Florida, we say we’re the state where woke goes to die,” he commented. “As president, I’m going to make sure woke ideology ends up in the dustbin of history.”

In fact, already, conservatives in other states are hoping to bring his rules to their schools. So far, at least 10 states have legislation that mentions parental rights. And the majority of the rest at least have proposals to do so.

Additionally, DeSantis used his power to help two dozen conservatives win their respective school board races. His endorsements, in turn, continue and plan to aid him in reshaping education.

Overall, his efforts will only harm students, as he restricts them from thinking for themselves. While advertising putting an end to woke indoctrination, he’s simply instilling his own beliefs instead.

If kids aren’t taught about race and gender in-depth, they won’t truly understand how they operate in our society. And, without that understanding, we’ll see a lot more people like Ron DeSantis.

Written By

hi! i'm nic (she/they) and i am a third year english lit major at the university of san francisco! i enjoy writing about queer topics and social issues and really appreciate you reading my articles :)

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