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House Democrats Call Out “Racist Tropes” in New Florida K-12 History Curriculum

Florida’s mandated instruction that people benefited from skills gained in slavery has drawn national attention.

Rep. Maxwell Frost talks with reporters outside the U.S. Capitol on June 22, 2023.

Four Black Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday joined the growing chorus of critics opposing “racist tropes” in Florida’s new K-12 history curriculum, which includes teaching middle school students “the resurrection of one of the greatest lies America has ever told itself, that slavery benefited the enslaved.”

“Your decision to rewrite history to ingrain white supremacy into the minds of children is a colossal step backward and an insult to Black people, descendants of slaves, and the intellect of the American people,” three Florida Democrats — Reps. Maxwell Alejandro Frost, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, and Frederica Wilson — and Congressional Black Caucus Chair Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) wrote to the state’s Department of Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and Board of Education Chairman Ben Gibson.

The first-of-its-kind standards approved Wednesday by the Florida board “are not the truth of American history but riddled with falsehoods that minimize the unique racial terror experienced by Black people in America throughout time,” the lawmakers argued.

“These standards are out of touch with reality and will leave future generations of Floridians out of touch and disadvantaged in the world outside of Florida,” they warned. “Even worse, it plants the sinister thought that enslavement and continued harm toward Black people today is also acceptable and beneficial.”

Florida’s mandated instruction that enslaved people developed “skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit” has garnered national attention but “is not the only dangerous falsehood,” the quartet highlighted. They pointed out that the curriculum for middle school students “also requires downplaying and tempering the horror of American slavery by requiring it is coupled with teaching, ‘how slavery was utilized in Asian, European, and African cultures,’ ‘the similarities and differences between serfdom and slavery,’ and ‘comparative treatment of indentured servants of European and African extraction.'”

Additionally, for high schoolers, the standards “list massacres of Black people in America as, ‘examples of acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans,’ falsely assigning shared responsibility to Black victims,” the lawmakers noted.

“We demand the Florida Board of Education immediately reverse its decision,” they concluded. “Not repealing these new standards would dig up the corpse of the worst version of our nation and force our children to live in it.”

Frost, Cherfilus-McCormick, Wilson, and Horsford aren’t the only critics of the Florida curriculum in Congress. U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), a Black former teacher and principal, tweeted Friday that “this is an outright attempt to rewrite history and ignore America’s past of racial exploitation and violence and the trauma from the impact of slavery on Black Americans.”

Congressman Jonathan Jackson (D-Ill.) — a son of civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson — thanked Vice President Kamala Harris “for standing up for the truth” by blasting the Florida standards and declared that “we must be true to our history, even when it’s painful.”

The national alarm over Florida’s curriculum comes after the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — now a GOP 2024 presidential candidate — earned widespread criticism earlier this year for rejecting an Advanced Placement course about African American studies for high school students.

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