Unraveling the Florida Standards Slavery Controversy

Embark on a journey through the Florida Standards Slavery controversy. Grasp the contrasting opinions and their far-reaching effects.

July 29, 2023

In the heart of Florida's educational system, a storm has been brewing. The epicenter of this storm is the state's new social studies educational standards, which have drawn national attention and sparked heated debates. The eye of this storm is a single line in the guidelines, a line that has been interpreted, reinterpreted, and dissected by academics, politicians, and the public alike. This line reads: “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Key figures in this unfolding drama are Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Wesley Hunt, a former U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and current Republican representative for Texas's 38th congressional district. Their views on the new educational standards and the interpretation of that controversial line have fueled the ongoing debate.

The controversy has been further inflamed by the involvement of other political figures, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Senator Tim Scott, the only Black Republican U.S. Senator. Their criticisms of the new standards and the language used have added another layer of complexity to the issue.

As the debate rages on, a quote from the late African American writer and social critic, James Baldwin, seems particularly fitting: "American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it." This quote serves as a reminder of the complexity and sensitivity of the issues at hand, and the importance of approaching them with care and respect.

The heart of the issue lies in a specific phrase within Florida's new social studies educational standards. The phrase in question suggests that enslaved people could use the skills they learned for their "personal benefit." This interpretation has been a point of contention, with critics arguing it paints a misleading picture of the brutal reality of slavery.

Governor DeSantis's team has defended the language by drawing parallels with the College Board’s AP African American Studies class framework. The College Board's framework states, "In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South."

Despite the controversy, the new standards were approved and are now part of the state's curriculum. This decision has drawn criticism from various figures and groups, including the Florida Education Association (FEA), a statewide teachers union. The FEA has been particularly vocal in its opposition.

The College Board has made its stance clear: “We resolutely disagree with the notion that enslavement was in any way a beneficial, productive, or useful experience for African Americans. Unequivocally, slavery was an atrocity that cannot be justified by examples of African Americans’ agency and resistance during their enslavement."

Wesley Hunt and Byron Donalds, two prominent figures, have expressed their views on the new educational standards in Florida. Hunt criticizes Governor DeSantis, suggesting that if he focused more on his role as Governor rather than his presidential campaign, the curriculum on slavery might more accurately reflect the pain and suffering experienced by millions. He states, "If Ron DeSantis spent more time doing the job the people of Florida elected him to do and less time on his failing Presidential campaign, perhaps Florida’s curriculum on slavery would more accurately reflect the pain and heartbreak experienced by millions who suffered through the original sin.

---- bryson donalds tweet

On the other hand, Donalds supports the majority of the new African American history standards but opposes the aforementioned sentence that, in his view, seems to dignify the skills gained by slaves as a result of their enslavement. He argues that anyone who can't accurately interpret what he said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points. He states, "What's crazy to me is I expressed support for the vast majority of the new African American history standards and happened to oppose one sentence that seemed to dignify the skills gained by slaves as a result of their enslavement. Anyone who can't accurately interpret what I said is disingenuous and is desperately attempting to score political points.”

Despite these perspectives, it can be argued that Hunt's criticism of DeSantis is misplaced and that Donalds' opposition to a single sentence in the standards is an oversimplification of the issue. The focus should be on the overall intent and impact of the new standards, rather than on individual sentences or political point-scoring.

The critique of Wesley Hunt's statements is clear and direct. Being a direct descendant of slaves does not grant one the right to misrepresent another's position, especially on such a sensitive topic. Ron DeSantis, the Governor of Florida, never stated that slavery had any benefits. Any attempt to attribute such a position to him is a fabrication.

Hunt's assertion that DeSantis believed the skills learned during slavery ended up being a net benefit is incorrect. This misrepresentation is not only misleading but also disrespectful to the historical reality of slavery. 

It is crucial to understand that when individuals find themselves in dire situations, whether it's prison, the lowest point of their life, or even slavery, they can still strive to learn and grow. This is not an attempt to cast a positive light on slavery, but rather a recognition of human resilience in the face of adversity.

Hunt's comments are seen as embarrassing and disrespectful. They do not contribute to a constructive dialogue about the teaching of history but instead distort the conversation with inaccuracies.

The teaching of history, especially sensitive topics like slavery, should be fact-based, without any positive or negative spin. It's not about creating a silver lining out of slavery but about presenting the facts as they are. This includes teaching about life post-slavery and how former slaves used their skills as indentured servants and beyond.

A positive spin that could be taught to children outside of school is the ability to make the most out of horrific situations. This does not mean that slavery was good - no credible person would make such a claim. It means teaching resilience and the ability to overcome adversity.

As the famous quote by George Santayana goes, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This underscores the importance of teaching history as it is, without any spin or distortion.

Navigating the labyrinth of American history requires a discerning eye, especially when confronted with voices that distort the narrative for their own ends. One such voice is Sonnie Johnson, the host of "Sonnie's Corner" on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Johnson's misguided views on the Florida education standards have stirred up controversy, and her perspective warrants a closer examination.

Sonnie Johnson, a figure known for her normally well-thought out contentious opinions, has recently been vocal about her views on the Florida education standards. She has made sweeping claims, stating, "They REALLY believe you are racist. They REALLY believe you think slavery had benefits. They REALLY believe a Black person that disagrees with them are in 'error' and you believe it too." Such statements are not only inflammatory but also grossly misrepresent the standards.

She accuses the standards of justifying the benefits of slavery, a claim that is not only inaccurate but also a disservice to the historical facts. The standards do not glorify slavery; instead, they acknowledge that some enslaved people leveraged their skills for personal benefit. This is not an opinion but a historical fact.

Johnson's refusal to admit her error is a clear demonstration of her stubbornness. She continues to double down on her stance, hiding behind her racial identity as a shield. This tactic is not only unproductive but also harmful, as it perpetuates a toxic combination of ignorance and arrogance.

In the midst of Johnson's misguided tirade, the voice of reason emerges in the form of Dr. William B. Allen. A conservative political scientist, author, and member of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup, Dr. Allen has defended the new standards against Johnson's baseless criticism.

According to a report by the Jacksonville News, Dr. Allen clarified that the standards do not suggest that slavery was beneficial to Africans. Instead, they highlight the resilience and adaptability of enslaved Africans who developed skills that served to their benefit, both during and after slavery.

Johnson's resistance to Dr. Allen's stance is a regrettable display of ignorance. Her refusal to admit her errors and her attack on something she does not fully understand is a disservice to the discourse on Florida's education standards.

The debate over Florida's education standards is a complex issue, and Johnson's misguided views only serve to muddy the waters. As we continue to explore this topic, it's crucial to cut through the noise and strive for a nuanced understanding of the issues at hand.

As the dust settles on the recent debates, it's clear that the political landscape is being shaped by a tug-of-war between two prominent figures: Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. The spectacle has been, to say the least, uncomfortable to observe. Both sides, staunchly pro-Trump and pro-DeSantis, have resorted to using corporate talking points to undermine each other, creating a spectacle that is more about political posturing than substantive debate.

A case in point is DeSantis' recent claim that Trump didn't do enough on January 6th. This statement, while perhaps intended to distance DeSantis from Trump's controversial legacy, comes across as a hollow attempt to score political points. It's a move that mirrors the tactics of the pro-Trump camp, who have been quick to criticize DeSantis based on unfounded accusations as highlighted above.

However, the most disconcerting aspect of this political theater is not the petty squabbles, but the realization that neither of these leaders - Trump or DeSantis - offer a viable solution to the pressing issues at hand. Their focus on one-upmanship and political maneuvering overshadows any substantive discussion on policy or vision for the future.

In the midst of this political jostling, it's easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. The focus on the Trump vs. DeSantis narrative distracts from the real issues and challenges that need to be addressed. It's a short-sighted approach that prioritizes winning the primary over preparing for what comes after.

The reality is that the problems facing our society will not be solved by either Trump or DeSantis. Their rhetoric and actions have shown that they are more interested in political survival than in addressing the needs of the people they claim to represent. It's a sobering realization, but one that is necessary if we are to move forward.

The spectacle of Trump vs. DeSantis serves as a stark reminder of the need for new leadership. It's a call to action for those who are dissatisfied with the status quo and are seeking a leader who can truly address the challenges of our time. The political maneuvering and posturing of Trump and DeSantis may make for compelling headlines, but it does little to address the real issues at hand. It's time to look beyond the spectacle and focus on finding a leader who can truly make a difference.


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