Ron DeSantis Endorses Teaching Kids that Slavery Benefited Enslaved Blacks

President Donald Trump and Governor DeSantis discuss COVID-19 at the White House in April 2020
DeSantis faces new criticisms over Florida's new educational standard that middle schoolers be taught slaves developed skills they would use as a "personal benefit." 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and Donald Trump’s strongest Republican rival in the crowded 2024 GOP leadership contest, has recently been criticized due to his state’s new curriculum for African-American history. The curriculum has triggered a heated debate, with critics accusing it of promoting a ‘pro-slavery’ narrative. DeSantis, who is notoriously known for his conservative stance on social issues, has come under fire for his support of these new education standards, which incorrectly endorse the notion that slavery benefited enslaved blacks.

DeSantis and his ‘Anti-Woke’ Agenda

A potential candidate for the 2024 presidential election, DeSantis has made his conservative social cause a cornerstone of his political strategy. He has openly criticized the ‘woke’ education system and has even signed into law requirements that regulate how race can be taught in Florida schools. This move comes as educators across the United States grapple with efforts by conservatives to limit discussions of diversity, including African American history, in public schools.

The Controversial New Standards

The Florida Department of Education adopted new standards for the upcoming school year regarding the instruction of African American history in public schools. The new standards suggest that middle school students will be taught about “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” according to a document from the DOE website. The state board of education approved these controversial new standards.

These standards sparked criticism from educational and civil rights leaders, who have accused Florida Republicans of attempting to whitewash the history of slavery.

Title: [Iron mask, collar, leg shackles and spurs used to restrict slaves]Date Created/Published: New York : Samuel Wood, 1807. Medium: 1 print : woodcut. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-31864 (b&w film copy neg.) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.
Title: [Iron mask, collar, leg shackles and spurs used to restrict slaves] Date Created/Published: New York : Samuel Wood, 1807. Medium: 1 print : woodcut. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-31864 (b&w film copy neg.) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.

The backlash against the New Standards

Critics have accused DeSantis and his fellow Republicans of trying to erase the history of slavery. They argue that students should learn about this topic in its entirety.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, accused DeSantis of being “pro-slavery” over the educational policy.

Please keep this simple:

If you require schools to teach the “personal benefits” of slavery you are pro-slavery.

Ron DeSantis is pro-slavery.

— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell)July 22, 2023

Other prominent figures have also condemned the new standards. Will Hurd, a former congressman from Texas who is also running in the GOP 2024 presidential primary, tweeted, “Unfortunately, it has to be said – slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills. It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.”

Unfortunately, it has to be said – slavery wasn’t a jobs program that taught beneficial skills. It was literally dehumanizing and subjugated people as property because they lacked any rights or freedoms.https://t.co/4JjIgeDhKX

— Will Hurd (@WillHurd)July 21, 2023

‘Gaslighting Us’

During a speech at Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.’s 56th national convention in Indianapolis, Vice President Kamala Harris described the standards as an attempt to “gaslight us.”

“Just yesterday, in the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefitted from slavery,” Vice President Kamala Harris said. “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.”

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson called the move “an attempt to bring our country back to a 19th century America where Black life was not valued, nor our rights protected.”

DeSantis’s War on ‘Wokeness’

The new standards come as DeSantis, a contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, escalates his war on so-called “woke” education. This includes book bans, the rejection of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies, and the passage of the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits the instruction of material that could cause someone to feel “guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress.” DeSantis’ concern for the potential “anguish” of Florida students does not seem to extend to Black students, who could be forced to learn about the supposed “benefit” of slavery.

The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Law and its Expansion

DeSantis has expanded his “Don’t Say Gay” law this year, and the Florida Board of Education voted Wednesday for rules that took it even further — including by barring teachers from asking students their preferred pronouns. Diaz defended the move, saying it would protect kids from “unwelcome influences and indoctrination,” praising DeSantis, the legislation, and the board for what he described as their “unwavering commitment to the health, wellbeing, and safety of our students.”

The ‘Anti-Woke’ Law and its Implications

The changes to Florida’s teaching standards have generated considerable controversy, as DeSantis and other state leaders have intensely focused on what students are learning about race in the classroom. The state has modified its history curriculum to align with the Stop WOKE law that addresses issues like “white privilege” by creating new protections for students and workers.

The Controversy Over Black History Education

The controversy over how Black history will be taught in Florida’s public schools follows a decision by the College Board earlier this year to leave out references in its new AP African American Studies course to the Black Lives Matter movement and slavery reparations, among other topics. The Board’s decision came after Governor Ron DeSantis criticized the pilot course.

The debate over Florida’s new curriculum standards for African-American history illustrates the complexity and sensitivity of race issues in education. As various stakeholders voice their concerns and criticisms, it remains to be seen how this controversy will affect DeSantis’ political career and the future of education in Florida.

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