Reporters at the Miami Herald / Tampa Bay Times have cracked through some of the doublespeak around an embattled AP African American Studies class that’s banned in Florida (and on shaky ground here in Arkansas).
Internal documents at the Florida Department of Education, shared publicly just this week, reveal officials tasked with reviewing course materials advocated for more of a very-fine-people-on-both-sides approach to slavery and its aftermath.
For example, reviewers for the state flagged a unit about the early slave trade. They objected to the depiction of slavery as wholly a bad thing, saying the lesson “may only present one side of this issue and may not offer any opposing viewpoints or other perspectives on the subject.”
Blocking study about the brutality and oppression suffered by marginalized groups throughout our country’s history is increasingly common, as conservatives work to gloss over ugly historical truths with a splashy coating of red, white and blue.
Like Arkansas, Florida has new legislation on the books aimed at blocking progressive ideas and ways of thinking from the classroom. In Florida, it’s “Don’t Say Gay” and the WOKE Act. In Arkansas, we have an executive order from the governor and an entire section of the 2023 LEARNS Act dedicated to running off lefty “indoctrination” and “critical race theory” from public school classrooms.
Considering that Gov. Sarah Sanders‘ administration and fellow Arkansas Republicans routinely follow Florida’s lead straight into the culture war foxholes, the newly shared documents in Florida offer clues about what official talking points might be flying at us next in the ongoing fight over AP African American Studies.
The class came under assault from the Arkansas Department of Education on Aug. 11, the Friday before school started for most public school students in the state. State education officials deleted the course from its database and called teachers to tell them the state would not grant graduation credit for the class, nor would it cover exam fees as it does for all other Advanced Placement classes. Throughout weekend, Education Secretary Jacob Oliva pitched a series of easily debunkable excuses before settling on an official statement that suggested the class lacked academic rigor and was based on opinions and indoctrination.
Oliva makes a cameo in the Miami Herald story, which notes that he came to Arkansas after serving as Florida’s chancellor of K-12 education.
It makes sense that he brought some Florida-tested strategies on how to whitewash history with him. Most recently, Oliva told Arkansas teachers of AP African American Studies to turn over lesson plans and course materials to the Arkansas Department of Education for inspection by Sept. 8. Oliva said he will be looking for themes of intersectionality, resistance and resilience, which he said might violate prohibitions on indoctrination and critical race theory.
In Florida, education officials who scoured course plans and materials objected to a unit about the economic repercussions of slavery and the inability of enslaved people to accumulate wealth or pass anything on to their children.
“This is not true and may be promoting the critical race theory idea of reparations,” state officials wrote in documents reviewed by the Herald/Times. “This topic presents one side of this issue and does not offer any opposing viewpoints or other perspectives on the subject.”
This internal discussion and commentary from the Florida Department of Education almost never saw the light of day: They were made public only after the nonprofit group American Oversight successfully sued for access in hopes of exposing the state’s campaign to recast Black history classes with rightwing partisan spin.
The Miami Herald offered up this example of the Florida education department’s push to replace historic truth and cultural realities with patriotic myths that center white people’s experiences:
For example, the state worried educators teaching about how the 1960s Black is Beautiful movement helped lay a foundation for multicultural and ethnic studies movements, could “possibly teach that rejecting cultural assimilation, and promoting multiculturalism and ethnic studies are current worthy objectives for African Americans today.”
“This type of instruction tends to divide Americans rather than unify Americans around the universal principles in the Declaration of Independence,” the state officials wrote about a lesson in the course.
Inconveniently, though, the Declaration of Independence didn’t apply to everyone at the time, and slavery remained legal and common for nearly 100 years beyond its signing.