Controversy Engulfs DeSantis Campaign After Florida Changes Education Guidelines on Slavery

Teacher with arms crossed and students working behind him (Pexels/ Mikhail Nilov)
Pexels/ Mikhail Nilov

Controversy over new standards approved by Florida education officials for black history is engulfing the DeSantis campaign after Gov. Ron DeSantis attempted to clarify details of the new curriculum approved, including the inclusion that slaves gained skills “which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Florida’s Board of Education recently approved of new educational guidelines, which are drawing controversy over one particular line, which states that slaves “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Indeed, the “Florida’s State Academic Standards – Social Studies, 2023” document outlines that students are to “examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).”

Under benchmark clarifications, it reads, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

The changes came following the implementation of Florida’s Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act, otherwise known as the Stop WOKE Act, which Breitbart News detailed in 2022:

It also considers CRT discriminatory in the realm of education, stopping what [DeSantis’s] office describes as “indoctrination in the guise of professional development, and requires districts and schools to adhere to professional development frameworks consistent with Florida’s lawful and publicly adopted state standards.” The measure would also solidify the Florida Board of Education’s previous actions, making them law “to guard students against indoctrinating curriculum.”

This week, a CNN reporter asked the governor for some clarification on the controversial aspect of the new policy, but he triggered controversy when, before attempting to explain the changes, he told the reporter that she should talk to those who developed the policy.

DeSantis is struggling

Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivers remarks on June 1, 2023 (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images).

“I didn’t do it and I wasn’t involved in it,” he said of developing the new standards. “But I think what they’re doing is, I think, that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith, into doing things later in life.”

DeSantis emphasized that the new curriculum is rooted in “whatever is factual.”

“They listed everything out. And if you have any questions about it, just ask the Department of Education. You can talk about those folks. But I mean, these were scholars who put that together,” DeSantis said. “It was not anything that was done politically”:

His answer, however, drew massive backlash, as some asserted that he was essentially dismissing aspects of black history.

“Parlayed into what, exactly?” one commenter asked.

“All the skills and work of enslaved people were for the benefit and profit of the owner. They were not taught skills to make their personal lives better,” another added as others expressed dismay and shock at the governor’s answer:

The Florida Education Association is among those who have expressed concerns, contending that there were “several other speakers who spoke in opposition to the proposed standards, asking the board to table them until they can be revised.”

“When public comment ended, the board voted to adopt them. There was no discussion,” the organization claimed:

Vice President Kamala Harris is among the critics, traveling to Jacksonville, Florida, this week to criticize the standards approved by the board.

Then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during an early voting mobilization event on October 19, 2020, in Orlando, Florida (Octavio Jones/Getty Images).

“These extremist, so-called leaders should model what we know to be the correct and right approach if we are invested in the well-being of our children,” Harris said, ironically accusing the DeSantis administration of pushing “propaganda to our children.”
“This is the United States of America. We’re not supposed to do that,” Harris said.

“How is it that anyone could suggest that amidst these atrocities [of slavery], there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris asked, adding, “I do believe this is not only about the state of Florida. There is a national agenda afoot.”

DeSantis responded to Harris’s critiques on social media:

Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida’s educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children.

Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies.

Pointing to the Biden administration’s apparent obsession with the Sunshine State, he said, “The Harris-Biden administration is obsessed with Florida…yet they ignore the chaos at the border, crime-infested cities, economic malaise, and the military recruitment crisis,” adding, “Maybe if Biden’s granddaughter moved to Florida he’d actually visit her”:

Nevertheless, the administration has continued to receive backlash from the likes of the Biden administration as well as several organizations, including the previously mentioned Florida Education Association and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who wrote a group letter to the board member blasting the new agenda.


“We owe the next generation of scholars the opportunity to know the full unvarnished history of this state and country and all who contributed to it — good and bad,” the letter reads, contending that the curriculum omits “key historical facts about the Black experience.”

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Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. has continued to defend the standards, asserting that anyone who views it will see that “everything is covered.”

Diaz said:

From elementary school, where we start talking about those who have been prominent African Americans and as age-appropriate, we go into some of the tougher subjects, all the way into the beginnings of the slave trade, Jim Crow laws, civil rights movement, everything that occurred throughout our history.

“Board member Kelly Garcia also defended the curriculum, contending that “everything is there.”

“The darkest parts of our history are addressed,” she said.

This is not the first time Florida has come under fire for tackling this subject. Earlier in 2023, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) rejected an AP African American Studies course over content, as it contained a section on “Black Queer Studies,” cultural appropriation, reparations, and the “global influence of the Black Lives Matter” movement. FDOE, at the time, concluded the course was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The DeSantis administration in December 2022, first announced its “first of its kind in the nation” legislation, the Stop Woke Act, which, in part, aimed to root out Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools.

“It [history] needs to be taught in a fact-based way. Not an ideological-based way, and if we have to play whack-a-mole all over this state, stopping this Critical Race Theory, we will do it,” DeSantis vowed last year.

In May, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for black Americans traveling to Florida, which it said came in “direct response to Governor Ron DeSantis’ [R-FL] aggressive attempts to erase Black history and to restrict diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida schools.”

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