ABOVE: Photo by Adrian Andrews
The College Board is a nonprofit organization that runs an association of institutions, including over 6,000 schools, colleges, universities, and other educational entities as part of its membership. It develops and administers standardized tests and curricula used by K-12 and post-secondary education institutions nationally.
While the College Board provides resources and services to students, parents, and universities in promoting college readiness, it has no predetermined political agenda. The same cannot be said for the Florida Department of Education, which oversees its state’s public K-12 and college education systems. The department is under the direct responsibility and control of the governor. As of 2003, the commissioner of education, who manages the day-to-day operations of the school system, is no longer a position elected by the people.
It became an appointed position by the governor in addition to the six other members of the Board of Education. A governor is not a historian; therefore, providing an accurate depiction of history within a school curriculum should be left to those who are the most qualified to do so. By abusing his authority, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis adjusted the state’s education standards to align with his personal, politically, and racially motivated vision for a state “where woke goes to die.”
On July 19, the DeSantis-controlled Florida Board of Education approved new guidelines for its Black history curriculum requiring middle-school students to be instructed on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” The new standards teach elementary school students how to identify famous African American individuals but do not push their knowledge beyond surface-level awareness. The public school teachers are pushing back on the weak and inaccurate guidelines. The same is true of the College Board, NAACP, and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican U.S. Senator. “We resolutely disagree with the notion that enslavement was in any way a beneficial, productive, or useful experience for African Americans,” the College Board said in a statement to USA Today. “Unequivocally, slavery was an atrocity that cannot be justified by examples of African Americans’ agency and resistance during their enslavement.” While the new guidelines still allow teachers to provide instruction about Black history in schools, the Board opted to do so in a way that the NAACP says “convey a sanitized and dishonest telling of the history of slavery in America.”
These latest changes result from the state’s Stop Woke Act, enacted in July 2022. The law says discussions about race must be taught in an “objective manner” and should not be “used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” It also states that students should not feel guilty for actions taken in the past by people of their same race or origin. This would not be necessary if the same history they are whitewashing focused on the stories of whites, such as John Brown, who held anti-slavery views and was a leading figure in the abolitionist movement. Our public schools should not protect the interest of one race at the expense of another.
The true story of the Black experience in America has always been shallow, filled with omissions in history books. The desire to develop a watered-down version of the truth is not just limited to Florida, and it predates the Stop Woke Act. Protecting the feelings of white students and their parents does not justify denying Black students the uplifting and encouraging experience of knowing their ancestors’ full stories and contributions. For example, when presenting the painful facts in depth regarding the transatlantic slave trade, it illustrates to a Black student the strength, courage, and resilience of enslaved Africans from which they are an extension. That important connection for all Black students gets lost in the skimmed-over teaching of valuable history. The long list of Black massacres is unknown to most middle and high school students today. The Orange County Regional History Center in Florida called the 1920 Ocoee Massacre “the largest incident of voting-day violence in United States history.”
For high school students, the DeSantis-controlled Board of Education will now require events like the Ocoee Massacre to be depicted as an “act of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.” From the DeSantis version of the massacre, students may never know that the massacre was a white mob attack on Black residents in northern Ocoee. The motive was to prevent Black citizens from voting in the 1920 presidential election. Most of the Black-owned buildings and residences were burned to the ground, and approximately 30 to 35 Blacks were killed. “Most of the people living in Ocoee don’t even know that this happened there,” said Pamela Schwartz, chief curator of the Orange County Regional History Center. Sadly, a culture of silence existed. For almost a century, many descendants of survivors were not aware of the massacre that occurred in their hometown. The memories of the victims from 1920 don’t deserve to be forgotten and then misrepresented. In 1920, the culture of silence concerning Blacks came out of fear. A traumatized community may never heal when racially driven politicians and appointees use their power and positions to perpetuate the white denial of the truth behind the sometimes-uncomfortable Black American experience.
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.” He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.