In a recent series of events that sparked intense debate and contrasting viewpoints, Vice President Kamala Harris embarked on a visit to Florida, during which she took aim at Governor Ron DeSantis, accusing the state of attempting to rewrite history by propagating untruths in its approach to teaching about slavery. Her statements triggered a public response from Governor DeSantis, who, in a bold move, publicly invited Harris to engage in an open and candid dialogue on the matter.
In a letter dated July 31, Governor DeSantis extended the invitation, expressing Florida’s fearlessness in facing challenging issues and its commitment to fostering an atmosphere conducive to meaningful conversations. He also playfully acknowledged Harris’s willingness to visit Florida at short notice, hinting at her recent visit, and urged her to return to the state to discuss Florida’s African-American History standards. In a conciliatory tone, he offered the expertise of Dr. William Allen, an instrumental figure in crafting the state’s impressive new standards, to participate in the dialogue.
Ever the advocate of inclusivity, Governor DeSantis assured Harris that she was welcome to bring along Randi Weingarten or any other individual sharing her perspective on the subject. He proposed an early meeting as soon as the following Wednesday, though he respected her busy schedule and a possible visit to the southern border. Governor DeSantis painted a picture of the potential impact such a serious conversation could have on the nation, emphasizing the importance of discussing critical issues that shape the understanding of history.
However, in her speech delivered on August 1 in Orlando, Vice President Harris declined the invitation, choosing not to participate in the proposed debate. She passionately asserted that there was no room for debate regarding slavery. Harris said that slavery had no redeeming qualities. Her remarks received thunderous applause from the audience, reflecting the strong sentiments surrounding the contentious subject.
Amid the unfolding drama, Governor DeSantis underscored the credentials of Dr. William Allen, a distinguished African-American studies expert who played an instrumental role in formulating Florida’s comprehensive standards. Furthermore, he expressed his reservations about teachers’ unions, including Randi Weingarten’s. He underscored his commitment to reforming public schools by eliminating “wokeness” from their curricula, ending tenure, and introducing widespread school choice.
The backdrop of the current dispute lies in the state’s approach to the African-American history curriculum. Early in the year, the Florida Department of Education rejected the College Board’s proposed Advanced Placement African-American Studies curriculum, expressing concerns about including topics such as black queer theory. After revisions were made, the state eventually accepted the revised curriculum.
The current rift, however, revolves around a specific statement in the new 216-page curriculum, which suggests that some slaves developed skills that they could apply for their personal benefit. Harris vehemently rejected this notion, passionately recounting the harrowing realities of slavery, highlighting the heinous acts of rape, torture, and the inhumane separation of families, and firmly stating that there could be no silver lining in such a dark chapter of history.
In addition to rejecting the idea of a debate on the subject, Harris criticized Governor DeSantis and Florida Republicans for allegedly banning books, a charge that DeSantis vehemently denies. Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill passed in 2022, mandates age-appropriate teaching of sexuality to younger students and grants parents the right to object to certain classroom materials. While some books have been removed from school libraries due to explicit content, no outright book bans have been imposed.
In her speech, Harris reiterated her stance against attempts to replace history with falsehoods, specifically condemning the inclusion of the statement in Florida’s curriculum that seemingly downplayed the horrors of slavery. Moreover, she accused DeSantis and Florida Republicans of attempting to gaslight the public with unnecessary debates, vowing to continue fighting against what she referred to as extremist leaders who hinder the dissemination of accurate historical knowledge.
The African-American history curriculum has become a topic of concern for Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, who are both prominent black Republicans. They have expressed reservations about the statement and called for adjustments to prevent any unintended implications.
In response to the ongoing controversy, Governor DeSantis has staunchly defended Florida’s educational approach, emphasizing that African-American history is an integral part of American history and must be taught accordingly. He criticized the Biden administration’s disparaging remarks about Florida’s education system. He reiterated Florida’s commitment to being a trailblazer in implementing standalone African-American History standards, a progressive move that sets the state apart from others.