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DeSantis gets attacked from both sides over school curriculum on slavery, some scholars defend it

Prominent black GOP Congressmen such as Byron Donalds, John James and Wesley Hunt have spoken out against the Florida curriculum.

Published: July 29, 2023 11:40am

Updated: July 29, 2023 4:43pm

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis has been receiving backlash from both Republicans and Democrats regarding the curriculum and history standards on slavery for Florida public schools, while some scholars have come out in defense of it. 

The curriculum has in large part been criticized for language that states slaves “developed skills” that later benefited them after slavery was outlawed in America.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott came out against the Florida governor during an interview earlier this week. 

“There is no silver lining in slavery," he said during an interview with Politico. "Slavery was really about separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating.” He added that “every person in our country, and certainly running for president, would appreciate that” and that perhaps DeSantis was having a bad day when he defended the curriculum. 

Other prominent black GOP Congressmen such as Byron Donalds (R-Fl.), John James (R-Mi.) and Wesley Hunt (R-Tx.) have also spoken out against the curriculum. 

".@RonDeSantis, #1: slavery was not CTE! Nothing about that 400 years of evil was a 'net benefit' to my ancestors," Rep. James wrote on X, formerly called Twitter. 

"As the direct descendent [sic] of a slave, I have a hard time understanding Governor DeSantis’ position that transferrable skills learned in bondage are somehow a net benefit," Hunt wrote on X.

Vice President Kamala Harris also criticized the curriculum earlier this week. 

“They dare to push propaganda to our children,” she said, according to The Hill. “Adults know what slavery really involved. It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby from their mother.”

DeSantis pushed back on Harris' comments, saying that she was "lying" about what was in the curriculum.

“Anyone that actually read that and listens to Kamala [Harris] would know that she’s lying,” he said. “That particular provision about the skills, that was in spite of slavery not because of it.”

According to National Review, the 2023 AP African-American studies curriculum released by the College Board also argues that slaves learned skills while in bondage. 

Unit 2 of the AP’s syllabus on “Slavery, Labor, and American Law,” states that while in bondage, slaves may have learned to become “painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers” and subsequently “used these skills to provide for themselves and others.” 

One of the academics among the 13 experts and educators in the workgroup for the Florida Department of Education who crafted the standards came out against Harris, accusing her of lying about what was in the curriculum.

Dr. William Allen, a black scholar and former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said during an unaired part of an interview on ABC that the vice president is not accurately portraying what the curriculum says.

"It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans," Allen said, according to Fox News. "What was said, and anyone who reads this will see this with clarity, it is the case that Africans proved resourceful, resilient and adaptive and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslavement."

Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts said that the curriculum was excellent and that these attacks were a smear against DeSantis. 

“The outcry over Florida’s African American History standards is absurd,” Roberts, who has a PhD in American history, said in a statement on X. “That happens to be my academic field as a historian; I use to write extensively—including curriculum standards—on the topic. So I took some time to review Florida’s. The bottom line: they are excellent.” 

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