Black churches and congregations in Florida are now offering their own versions of Black history education, that do not follow state-imposed guidelines. This comes in response to recent changes in Florida’s educational curriculum for K-12 students, which has sparked controversy and criticism throughout the state and country.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican and a 2024 presidential candidate, faced backlash after the Florida Department of Education (DOE) implemented alterations to the educational curriculum earlier this year.
The changes made by the Florida DOE included the rejection of an AP African American Studies course. Jeremy Redfern, press secretary to Governor DeSantis, had criticized the rejected course, stating, “It lacks historical accuracy” and “educational value.”
Controversial Curriculum Changes
One aspect of the new curriculum that has gotten significant attention is a statement that reads, “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
This statement that enslaved people received some “personal benefit” has gained the most criticism. Vice President Kamala Harris labeled the statement as “propaganda,” while Fox News’ Jesse Watters called it “historical fact.”
In a July press conference, Desantis defended the new curriculum and said, “I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith, into doing things later in life.”
Pastors Taking the Lead
Black pastors in Florida have decided to take matters into their own hands by offering educational lessons on Black history, like Pastor Kenneth Johnson of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
Pastor Johnson recently conducted an online lesson on the transatlantic slave trade, and similar lessons are planned for the future. Pastor Kenneth Johnson stated, “We don’t need government approval to teach our history.”
Faith in Florida’s Initiative
Faith in Florida, a multicultural nonpartisan network of congregational community organizations, has been at the forefront of creating alternative educational resources for the African-American community.
Faith in Florida’s network developed its own curriculum and launched an online toolkit to help individuals better understand their history.
Linda Wiggins-Chavis, research and policy coordinator for Faith in Florida, emphasized, “People came to this country with skills, okay? And those people developed skills despite slavery, not because of slavery.”
Black churches and organizations like Faith in Florida want to teach what they believe to be an honest version of history. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida, said they have a responsibility to teach history that is not “watered down” and reflects the true experiences of African Americans.
A Step Toward Formalization
Professor Davis Houck of Florida State University, an expert on the Black Freedom Movement, noted that while Black churches have historically taught Black American history, these efforts represent a move towards formalizing structured lesson plans and using primary historical sources.
Professor Davis Houck said, “If Black community leaders perceive their history is not being accurately taught, it stands to reason that they would do it themselves — especially because their families have lived that history.”
Houk goes on to say, “On the other side of the ideological register, some white evangelicals are home-schooling their children or sending them to private schools for some of the same reasons, namely that the curricula in public schools, in their estimation, is failing.”
Amid these developments, teachers, students, community members, and Teamsters protested Florida’s enacted Black history standards and marched to Miami-Dade school board headquarters.
They claimed the new guidelines to be, “historically inaccurate, troubling, and deeply offensive.”
It would seem most people are siding with those fighting against the new guidelines with one social media user commenting on the controversy, “Thank God for these folks, making sure their children know the truth instead of the DeSantis fairy tales.”
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