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VP Harris says Florida's new Black history curriculum replaces 'history with lies'

Vice President Harris addresses a Pennsylvania Democratic Party reception in Philadelphia on Oct. 28, 2022. On Friday, Harris called Florida's new education standards insulting and misleading.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
Vice President Harris addresses a Pennsylvania Democratic Party reception in Philadelphia on Oct. 28, 2022. On Friday, Harris called Florida's new education standards insulting and misleading.

Updated July 21, 2023 at 5:12 PM ET

Vice President Harris delivered an impassioned speech on Friday condemning Florida for its new framework for how Black history will be taught in K-12 schools, including guidelines that slavery was beneficial to enslaved people.

"It is not only misleading, it is false and pushing propaganda," she said Friday in Jacksonville, Fla. "Pushing propaganda on our children."

Harris also criticized Florida's new standards for requiring high schools to teach that African Americans were perpetrators in some racially motivated massacres. She described these lessons as efforts by "extremists" to replace "history with lies."

Changesto the social studies curriculum were approved by the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday. The divisive revisions come just months after the state rejectedan Advanced Placement course on African American studies.

On Friday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, accused Harris of lying.

"Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida's educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children," DeSantis wrote on Facebookprior to her speech.

New standards suggest slavery was beneficial to some enslaved people

Arguably the most criticized change were the guidelines for middle school students, which state, "Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

Harris called the assertion not only insulting but absurd — pointing to how slavery entailed torture, separating families and enforcing the belief that some people are less than human.

"How is it that anyone could suggest in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?" she said.

Framework also teaches that some racially motivated massacres were sparked by African Americans

Meanwhile, high school students will be taught that some racially motivated massacres — like the 1920Ocoee Massacre in which dozens of African Americans in Florida were killed for attempting to vote — were "perpetrated against and by African Americans."

"That's blaming the victim when in fact, it was other individuals who came into the Black community and killed individuals, burned homes and schools and lodges," state Sen. Geraldine Thompson saidat a board meeting on Wednesday.

In 2020, Thompson, who represents part of central Florida, pushedfor the state to explore how to teach about Ocoee Massacre — considered the largest incident of Election Day violence in U.S. history.

Elementary school lessons on famous Black figures do not include their histories or struggles, educators say

Under the new elementary school guidelines, children will learn to recognize famous Black figures including Rosa Parks, Zora Neale Hurston and George Washington Carver. But educators argue those lessons don't go deep enough, failing to include studies on their histories or struggles.

"These new standards will make sure that, through the fourth grade, elementary school students' knowledge of African American history doesn't extend beyond being able to know who a famous African American is when they see them," the Florida Education Association, a statewide teachers union, said in a statement.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.