[Editor’s note: Make sure to read Joseph Klein’s masterpiece contributions in Jamie Glazov’s new book: Barack Obama’s True Legacy: How He Transformed America.]
When Vice President Kamala Harris is not caught up in one of her word salads, she stokes racial tensions with reckless accusations. Her latest foray into the gutter involved the African American history portion of Florida’s updated state-wide social studies curriculum standards issued by the Florida State Board of Education. The vice president charged that Florida was replacing “history with lies” in its discussion of slavery.
In remarks that Vice President Harris delivered at the Ritz Theatre and Museum in Jacksonville, Florida on July 21st, she charged that “extremist so-called leaders” in Florida are “pushing propaganda on our children.” The vice president took one sentence from the 216-page social studies curriculum standards document out of context to suggest that Florida’s political leaders were trying to turn the horrors of slavery into a positive experience that was beneficial for enslaved people.
The vice president is accusing the wrong people of pushing propaganda on our children. The left-wing progressives who are trying to take over America’s public schools are the ones pushing critical race theory, identity politics, and other woke propaganda on our children. And the Biden administration is all in with this agenda.
Students across the country are being indoctrinated in ideas underpinning critical race theory that falsely characterize the United States as a systemically racist society where white supremacy and privilege still rule as a continuing legacy of slavery. This claptrap is presented to students as if it were based on incontrovertible historical facts, which is certainly not the case.
Numerous schools, for example, have incorporated lesson plans based on The 1619 Project, a New York Times leftist initiative, into their curriculums. Students are being spoon-fed a left-wing racially charged narrative, which puts slavery and what is said to be its legacy, of enduring oppression of African Americans to this day at the center of America’s story. It posits that 1619 was the most significant year in American history, not 1776, because 1619 was when Africans first arrived in Virginia to work in servitude for Virginian colonists. As the 1619 Project’s revisionist account of American history tells it, this set in motion the institution of slavery that has supposedly defined America’s inherent character as a systematically racist, white supremacist society ever since.
Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida’s education officials refuse to allow public school students in their state to be indoctrinated with such anti-American propaganda. They want students to be provided with a balanced American history curriculum, which does not hide, as Governor DeSantis put it, “the bad in American history, including…the injustice of slavery.” However, much to the Left’s consternation, Florida’s public students will also learn about America’s continuing progress as a nation of freedom and equal opportunity.
Here is the sentence from Florida’s updated social studies curriculum standards to which Vice President Harris took such umbrage:
“Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
This sentence follows directly after mention of “the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).”
None other than Booker T. Washington, a slave himself during his early years who rose to great prominence in the education field after he acquired his freedom, confirmed the truth of this statement in his autobiography “Up From Slavery.” Moreover, teaching the simple fact that slaves learned some useful skills in the course of performing their duties and trades is neither an attempt to justify the institution of slavery in any way or to recast its image in a positive light.
Booker T. Washington wrote that:
“notwithstanding the cruelty and moral wrong of slavery, the ten million Negroes inhabiting this country, who themselves or whose ancestors went through the school of American slavery, are in a stronger and more hopeful condition, materially, intellectually, morally, and religiously, than is true of an equal number of black people in any other portion of the globe.”
Even the College Board’s Advanced Placement program for African American studies acknowledged that, in addition to agriculture,
“enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South. Once free, American [sic] Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.”
In short, there is nothing controversial about the sentence that Florida included in its updated curriculum standards acknowledging the skills that slaves developed which they could subsequently apply for their personal benefit. It is a historical fact. But Vice President Harris and other left-wing demagogues have twisted the meaning of this short sentence to manufacture a controversy over race and divide Americans by their group identities for crass political purposes.
Even a cursory look at Florida’s updated curriculum standards would reveal that its authors had no intention of sugarcoating how slavery dehumanized the enslaved.
For example, the updated curriculum standards state: “Instruction includes how slave codes resulted in an enslaved person becoming property with no rights.” The standards also reference instruction “in the conditions for Africans during their passage to America,” including study of the deadly Middle Passage during which Africans were packed together in ships without ventilation or adequate water.
Neither do the updated curriculum standards ignore or paper over the racial injustices inflicted on African Americans following the Civil War and the end of slavery. The instruction includes, for example, “the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping on individual freedoms (e.g., the Civil Rights Cases, Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, lynchings, Columbian Exposition of 1893).” The Columbian Exposition of 1893 provides a striking example of racist stereotyping and dehumanizing treatment of African Americans that the Advanced Placement program omits.
The standards include instruction on such topics as the “rise of Ku Klux Klan” and “acts of violence, unjust laws such as poll taxes, literacy tests, sundown laws, anti-miscegenation laws.” They also cover instruction on “how African Americans suffered infringement of rights through racial oppression, segregation, discrimination” and discussion of “how privilege and social power structures relate to stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.”
Thus, Florida’s updated curriculum standards clearly do not gloss over how badly African Americans were treated for the duration of slavery in America and during the many decades that followed the end of slavery. Vice President Harris’s accusation to the contrary is a blatant lie.
At the same time, however, Florida’s updated curriculum standards put America’s centuries of slavery into historical perspective. Children will be taught that slave ownership was not exclusively confined to white Christian Europeans and Americans. It was a phenomenon that transcended cultures, religions, and ethnic backgrounds:
“Instruction includes the practice of the Barbary Pirates in kidnapping Europeans and selling them into slavery in Muslim countries (i.e., Muslim slave markets in North Africa, West Africa, Swahili Coast, Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Indian Ocean slave trade). Instruction includes how slavery was utilized in Asian cultures (e.g., Sumerian law code, Indian caste system) …Instruction includes how slavery among indigenous peoples of the Americas was utilized prior to and after European colonization.”
The updated curriculum standards also provide for instruction on the division of opinions about the morality of slavery among the Founding Fathers, which necessitated the compromises that were necessary to allow the establishment of an independent United States. There will be instruction regarding slave rebellions and the anti-slavery movements that developed in the United States leading up to the Civil War. There will also be instruction on “the contributions of Africans to society, science, poetry, politics, oratory, literature, music, dance, Christianity and exploration in the United States from 1776-1865.”
Moreover, Floridian students will learn about the modern civil rights movement in America, which led to federal legislation and court cases that dismantled Jim Crow laws and ended de jure segregation.
Rather than denigrating the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as the 1619 Project and other lessons based on critical race theory have done, Florida’s updated curriculum standards take a more nuanced approach. They will equip Floridian students to understand “how the principles contained in foundational documents contributed to the expansion of civil rights and liberties over time” by “setting precedent for the future granting of rights.”
One of the co-authors of the updated curriculum standards is Dr. William Allen, a professor emeritus at Michigan State University who once served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Dr. Allen is an African American whose own great-grandfather was enslaved. Given his personal ancestral link to slavery, Dr. Allen would hardly be someone to view the dehumanizing institution of slavery itself that his great-grandfather suffered under as beneficial to the enslaved. He denied that the sentence Vice President Harris found to be so objectionable was intended to carry any such meaning.
Dr. Allen explained that the sentence only meant to say that Africans enslaved in America learned to be “resourceful, resilient and adaptive and were able to develop skills and aptitudes which served to their benefit, both while enslaved and after enslaved.” This testament to the inner strength of the enslaved Africans’ character, spirit, and intellect while they endured incredible suffering mirrored what Booker T. Washington had written about in his autobiography.
“I just want to foster and encourage everyone to take the time to read, or as I said in my response to the vice president, I think every intellect can understand the language written there if people only take the time to read it,” Dr. Allen remarked. “It’s only those who don’t take the time to read it who will misstate it.”
It is also those like Vice President Harris who brazenly lie about what Florida’s children will actually learn about slavery in school so that these demagogues can score cheap political points with racially divisive rhetoric.