"I am exasperated, utterly dismayed by the current state of affairs. While I would like to express shock that such events are unfolding in 2023, it would be dishonest of me to feign surprise given my understanding of America's historical trajectory." Gunner Doyle
The state of Florida, led by Governor Ron DeSantis, has recently made significant alterations to its public school curriculum, causing a widespread outcry. The new African American studies curriculum standards gloss over the horrifying realities of slavery, suggesting that enslaved people could apply the skills they acquired "for their personal benefit." This grave misrepresentation is not just an erasure of historical truth but a potent weapon that threatens future efforts to combat systemic racism. The recent Supreme Court ruling to end affirmative action in college admissions further complicates this issue, highlighting the urgency of addressing systemic racism in education.
Erasing the Historical Reality of Slavery
Slavery, a dark chapter in American history, was a brutal and dehumanizing institution where millions of African men, women, and children were violently uprooted from their homes, sold like property, and forced into a life of hard labor. The newly approved curriculum undermines the severity of this era by insinuating that there were "benefits" to being a slave. This romanticized perspective distorts historical facts and diminishes the enormity of the pain and suffering enslaved people endured.
Victim-Blaming and Distorted History
The curriculum's attempt to attribute acts of violence "perpetrated against and by African Americans" during the Reconstruction and beyond distorts history. The insinuation that events like the Ocoee Massacre, where a white mob murdered dozens of Black residents in 1920, were sparked by violence from African Americans is an alarming example of victim-blaming. This approach not only twists historical truths but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes about African Americans as instigators of violence.
Potential Harm to Students
This new curriculum could have a devastating effect on students' mental health and identity formation. Black students could face psychological trauma learning about the supposed "benefits" of slavery, and the curriculum's blatant distortion could create a hostile learning environment. Likewise, the harmful "Don't Say Gay" law prevents LGBTQ+ students from expressing their identity, adding to the adversities these young minds face.
Political Agenda Masked as Educational Reform
DeSantis's reforms appear to serve his political agenda more than Florida's educational needs. Measures like the Stop WOKE Act, the rejection of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies, and the war on so-called "woke" education suggest that these changes are not motivated by educational improvement but are part of a larger political strategy.
Implications of the End of Affirmative Action
The recent Supreme Court ruling ending affirmative action in college admissions poses an additional threat to racial equity in education. The court's conservative majority declared that race cannot be a factor in admissions, effectively invalidating policies that have sought to redress historical racial imbalances in higher education for over four decades. This ruling forces schools, especially top-tier institutions, to find new ways to achieve diverse student bodies. The end of affirmative action could drastically reduce opportunities for Black students and other students of color, further exacerbating educational disparities.
Implications for the Future
If these curriculum changes and the end of affirmative action go unchallenged, they could foster a generation of students with a distorted understanding of American history and systemic racism. Such a warped perspective makes it more challenging to address and combat systemic racism, as it obscures the historical roots of present racial disparities.
Black Education in America: A Timeline
- 1865-1877: During the Reconstruction era, Freedmen's Bureau schools were established to educate freed slaves. Despite severe underfunding, these schools marked the beginning of formal education for many African Americans.
- 1896: The Plessy v. Ferguson case upholds the "separate but equal" doctrine, leading to widespread segregation in schools, which were anything but equal.
- 1954: The landmark Brown v. Board of Education case rules segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, but the desegregation process takes many years and faces severe backlash.
- Late 1970s: Affirmative action policies begin to take effect, aiming to increase the representation of minorities and women in colleges and universities.
- 2000s-Present: Despite some progress, racial disparities in education persist. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in 2019, only 15% of Black 8th-grade students were proficient in U.S. history, compared to 45% of White students. The dropout rate for Black students is also higher than for White students (6.4% compared to 4.2%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics).
- 2023: The Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor. This ruling will force institutions of higher education to find new ways to achieve diverse student bodies and could significantly reduce opportunities for Black students and other students of color.
In conclusion, the recent changes in Florida's educational curriculum and the end of affirmative action are dangerous distortions and obstructions of racial equity and historical truth. It is imperative that we actively oppose such misrepresentations of history and advocate for an educational environment that truthfully reflects America's past and present racial dynamics.
- NAEP U.S. History Assessment
- National Center for Education Statistics
- Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)
- Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)
- AP News Report, June 29, 2023