Vice President Kamala Harris visited Jacksonville, Florida on Friday, July 21, 2023, to deliver a strong message against the new state standards for teaching Black history in schools. She accused the Republican-led administration of trying to “replace history with lies” and “push propaganda on our children”.
What are the new standards?
The new standards were approved by the Florida Board of Education in June 2023, following the recommendations of Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been vocal in his opposition to critical race theory and what he calls “woke ideology”. The standards include a controversial benchmark for middle school students to understand that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit”. Critics have denounced this as a revisionist and insensitive attempt to downplay the horrors of slavery and the oppression of African Americans.
The state also revoked an Advanced Placement African American Studies course in the spring. The state has not reinstated it despite changes made by the College Board. The course was designed to offer students a deeper and more diverse understanding of the history and culture of Black Americans.
What did Harris say?
Harris spoke at the Ritz Theatre and Museum in LaVilla, a historically Black neighborhood that was as soon called the “Harlem of the South” for its colorful cultural scene. She was joined with the aid of nearby leaders, educators, activists, and students who shared their issues and reports with the brand-new standards.
Harris said that she turned into proud to be made of public education that offered her a “full expanse” of facts and allowed her to hone her vital thinking competencies. She stated that this method enabled her to grow to be the first lady, the primary Black person, and the primary individual of Asian descent to function as vice president of the USA.
She contrasted this with the efforts of “extremist so-called leaders” who she stated desired to ban books, suppress LGBTQ rights, and erase Black records from the curriculum. She stated that those moves have been now not simplest harmful to college students but also to the country’s standing inside globally.
“Be absolutely clear—all of the folks that we would send our children out to meet around the arena are clear about our history. And we’re gonna send our personal children out to no longer recognize what it’s miles? Building in a handicap for our kids that they’re going to be the ones inside the room who don’t recognize their own records when the rest of the sector does?” she requested.
She also challenged the perception that enslaved people benefited from slavery, calling it an insult and an attempt to gaslight students. She listed a number of the atrocities that enslaved humans continued, including rape, torture, separation from their households, and denial of their humanity. She stated that slavery changed into one of the worst examples of depriving people of their dignity and rights in history.
She urged Americans to draw strength from their shared history of progress and resistance and to see this moment as an opportunity to rebuild a coalition that will continue to fight against ignorance and oppression. She said that she was optimistic about the future because of the courage and resilience of young people who are speaking up for truth and justice.
“I do believe this is not only about the state of Florida. There is a national agenda afoot,” she warned. “And we will not have it!”
How did DeSantis and other Republicans respond?
DeSantis did not attend Harris’ event, but he tweeted his reaction shortly after. He accused Harris and other Democrats of lying about Florida’s educational standards and trying to indoctrinate students with their agenda.
“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,” he wrote. “Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies”.
Florida GOP Chairman Christian Ziegler echoed DeSantis’ sentiments, saying that Harris came to Florida to lecture parents that their children belong to the government and that the government has a right to indoctrinate and sexualize them.
DeSantis and his allies have defended the new standards as a way to ensure that students learn factual and objective history, without being exposed to divisive and radical theories that undermine American values. They have also argued that parents should have more control over what their children are taught in schools.
What are the implications for 2024?
Harris’ visit to Florida was seen by many as a sign of her potential role as a key surrogate for President Joe Biden in his re-election campaign in 2024. Florida is a crucial swing state that Biden narrowly lost to former President Donald Trump in 2020. Harris’ presence and message could help mobilize and energize the Democratic base, especially among Black voters, women, and young people.
However, Harris also faces challenges in appealing to moderate and independent voters, who may be wary of her perceived liberalism and progressive agenda. She also has to contend with the low approval ratings of the Biden administration, which has been struggling with the pandemic, the economy, immigration, and foreign policy.
DeSantis, on the other hand, has emerged as a leading contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, if Trump does not run again. He has built a national profile and a loyal following among conservatives for his staunch opposition to Biden’s policies and his handling of the pandemic in Florida. He has also positioned himself as a champion of parental rights, school choice, and law and order.
The clash between Harris and DeSantis over Black history is likely to be one of many flashpoints in the upcoming presidential race, as both parties seek to define their vision for the country and its future.