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Politics

‘They Want to Replace History with Lies’ - VP Harris Blasts Florida’s New Slavery Curriculum

By Jake Beardslee · July 23, 2023

Vice President Harris condemned Florida's new education standards that downplay the impact of slavery.  The United States Senate - Office of Senator Kamala Harris, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Florida this week to condemn the state’s new education standards for teaching black history and slavery in middle schools. The standards have come under fire as critics claim they downplay the horrors of slavery.

“They want to replace history with lies,” Harris said in response to the new guidelines, at an address to Florida’s Board of Education.

Many critics notably point out that the new standards require teaching middle-school students that slaves acquired abilities through forced labor that, in some cases, could be useful to them personally. Harris denounced that historical view, saying, “Adults know what slavery really involved. It involved rape. It involved torture. 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?”

The new standards for high school students have also been met with criticism. They require teaching that incidents such as the 1920 Ocoee massacre, where white attackers targeted black voters, were acts of violence perpetrated by both African Americans and whites.

Harris condemned the this interpretation of the massacre, saying, “High schoolers may be taught that victims of violence, of massacres were also perpetrators. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us and we will not have it.”

Without mentioning his name, the Vice President accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a GOP presidential hopeful, of using debates over education standards to divide the country for political gain, referring to ‚Äúpeople who walk around and want to be praised as leaders, who want to be talked about as American leaders pushing propaganda on our children.”

DeSantis responded by calling Harris’s criticisms “ridiculous and outrageous.” While he defended the standards as “robust, thorough and factual,” when pressed on the language regarding abilities acquired through the experience of slavery, DeSantis distanced himself, saying he wasn’t involved in drafting that language.

Light Wave commentary

The fiery back-and-forth between Harris and DeSantis underscores the politically charged debate over how to teach the history of racism and slavery in American schools. With the new standards approved in Florida, the controversy is far from settled. There are many profound issues for the nation to address as it develops a more truthful and, ultimately, more self-critical way to teach children American history. And while it would be wise to avoid conferring blame on some groups and victimhood on others in developing those standards, it is also essential that we avoid absurdity. To wit, VP Harris is right to denounce the Florida Board of Education for requiring that middle-school students be taught that slaves acquired abilities through forced labor that could be useful to them. Shameful!