Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to speak to about 1,2000 Republican members and activists at the Lincoln Day dinner in Iowa Friday as part of his two-day bus tour where his campaign focuses on derailing former President Donald Trump.
On the campaign trail, DeSantis has touted Florida’s new public school curriculum on Black history, a topic that has stirred political controversy across the country.
“I think it’s very clear that these guys did a good job with those standards,” DeSantis said. “It wasn’t anything that was politically motivated. These are serious scholars.”
The new curriculum includes instructions for students to learn how African Americans “developed skills” while enslaved “which, in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit.”
“That particular provision about the skills, that was in spite of slavery, not because of it,” the governor added. “The AP course has made that same point, other courses have made that same point.”
Some opponents to the changes said this language “waters down” a dark period in our country’s history.
According to state documents and officials, a 13-member group was formed from a pool of 40 applicants to set the new standards. The search for these members started in August 2022.
In a statement, a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Education said the group consisted of “educators and academics including nominations from the Commissioner’s African American History Task Force.”
But Dr. Donna Austin, one of at least 10 members of the task force says several members were left in the dark about the updates, until they were already finalized.
During a trip to Jacksonville, in an effort to assail Republican efforts to overhaul educational standards, Vice President Kamala Harris said extremists want to “replace history with lies.”
“How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Harris asked.
While she did not mention DeSantis by name, she instead referred to the state’s “so-called leaders.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is also running for president in 2024, has also spoken out against DeSantis for supporting the new standards.
“What slavery was really about was separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating,” Scott, the sole Black Republican in the Senate, told reporters on Thursday after a town hall in Ankeny. “So I would hope that every person in our country — and certainly running for president — would appreciate that.”
“People have bad days,” Scott added. “Sometimes they regret what they say. And we should ask them again to clarify their positions.”
Other language that has drawn the ire of some educators and education advocates includes teaching about how Black people were also perpetrators of violence during race massacres.
That language says, “Instruction includes acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans but is not limited to 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 1919 Washington, D.C. Race Riot, 1920 Ocoee Massacre, 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.”
Florida has shifted to the right under DeSantis’ leadership. As governor, he’s signed legislation on a number of education issues, such as banning drag shows at schools and imposing new requirements for transgender bathroom use.
In 2022, he signed what he called the Stop WOKE Act, which limits how race can be taught in school and which the governor used to attack critical race theory — a subject he has described as “crap.” The law essentially says students can’t be made to feel guilty about their race because of injustices of the past.
Critics said the law was DeSantis’ attempt to suppress an accurate account of Black history. The law is being challenged in court.
“The full measure of African American history is not a hand-picked Rosa Parks here and a Martin Luther King Jr. there,” said Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell, who is Black. “It is the sweeping collection of stories spanning several centuries, the lessons of cruelty and inhumanity interwoven in the determination of a people to live and breathe free. It is as much Florida’s story as the nation’s story and it needs to be fully told.”
Earlier this year, the DeSantis administration rejected a College Board Advanced Placement course on African American history, which DeSantis said was “indoctrination.”