The recently released standards for social studies and history curriculum in Florida have sparked controversy and concern due to many troubling statements included in the document. One such statement is the assertion that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit”. Another concern is that in the African-American history strand, there are references and comparisons to other instances of slavery across the globe. First, if we are speaking about African-American history, why does there need to be reference to other examples of slavery? Second, the other examples mentioned were not chattel slavery, as was the case in the states. These statements have been met with rightful criticism as they perpetuate a harmful narrative about slavery. This inclusion not only revises history by trying to spin it in a ‘we aren’t so bad’ way, but also minimizes the struggles and suffering endured by those who were enslaved.
Promoting the idea that slaves somehow benefited from their enslavement is a gross distortion of historical truth. Such a statement downplays the systemic violence, exploitation, and dehumanization that defined the institution of slavery within the states. It fails to acknowledge that any skills or abilities developed by enslaved individuals were often the result of forced labor and were used to benefit the oppressive systems of their captors rather than their own personal gain. Whether people gained skills or not, they were rarely, if at all, able to use those skills without extreme punishment – unless it was for the gain of their captor.
Comparing the slavery that occurred in the states to other examples of slavery across the globe minimizes the experiences of those brought to the states while also not recognizing the significant differences of chattel slavery, with people defined as ‘property’. This concept is dehumanizing and it is critical that we don’t gloss over it simply because it is ‘uncomfortable’ to admit. It is important to understand how societies across the globe might have utilized the concept of slavery, but these stories do not relate to African-American history – instead possibly the concept of World History. We must also differentiate between the conditions of all enslaved people.
By allowing these harmful narratives to persist in educational standards, Florida risks revising history to fit a sanitized and misleading story. Erasing the struggles of those who suffered under slavery from the curriculum perpetuates a cycle of ignorance and denial. By glossing over the dehumanizing effects of slavery, students are deprived of a comprehensive understanding of the historical injustices faced by enslaved Africans and their descendants. This erasure denies students the opportunity to appreciate the profound impact of slavery on American society and the ongoing struggles of marginalized communities.
Florida’s inclusion of a statement that suggests slaves benefited from slavery is not only historically inaccurate but ethically problematic. It is crucial for educational standards to prioritize historical accuracy, empathy, and an honest appraisal of the past. By actively confronting harmful narratives and acknowledging the struggles of those who suffered under slavery, students can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of history and the ongoing efforts towards achieving a more inclusive and just society.
The concerns raised regarding Florida’s standards for social studies and history curriculum are closely intertwined with our core principles of “Guilt and politeness are the glue that holds prejudice in place” and “Every issue counts.” By acknowledging and rectifying misrepresentations of history, the state can promote empathy, challenge harmful narratives, and foster a society that values the experiences and dignity of all individuals. This requires a collective commitment to truth-telling and a willingness to confront uncomfortable aspects of history to create a more inclusive and just future for generations to come. Emphasizing historical accuracy and empathy in education is essential for fostering a society that respects the experiences and dignity of all its citizens. Florida must take this opportunity to address the issue and provide a more accurate and sensitive portrayal of history that honors the struggles of those who suffered under slavery and encourages future generations to actively confront injustice.