The Florida Sun Sentinel just published this article written by the co-presidents and Education Chair of the Florida League of Women Voters. When the Board speaks, you know there is reason for everyone to be concerned. There is a “Deliberate assault on public education and minorities” by our legislature.
What appears to be regular school operations — adopting instructional materials from state-approved book lists, updating standards and reviewing library and classroom materials — is anything but routine. Behind the scenes, political operatives (our legislators) are busily transforming Florida’s public education system from an institution committed to educating all students to their fullest potential, to one where racism saturates the very core of instructional practices, where only white children will be respected and encouraged.
There are deliberate and systematic efforts to use Florida’s public education system to undermine
Black and brown marginalized populations. Consider the evidence:
- Approving the African American History Strand in Florida’s 2023 Social Studies Standards that includes numerous false narratives. One particularly troublesome to historians is the curriculum guide’s statement that children will learn “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Another teaches students that some racially motivated massacres were “perpetrated against and by African Americans.” Forbidding accurate history by banning school lessons that make people “uncomfortable” about the actions of their forefathers. History will be whitewashed. White children cannot learn about or discuss their ancestors’ wrongdoings.
Retracting AP African American History for students because the governor thinks it “lacks value and historical accuracy,” again keeping Florida’s students from truthful accounts.
Eliminating programs dedicated to achieving diversity, equity or inclusion. These further one’s ability to communicate and collaborate with individuals from different backgrounds, show empathy, or recognize personal biases. Elimination implies minorities don’t have to be understood or respected.
Mandating removal of books from classrooms and school libraries discussing the cultures of nonwhite persons. When literature recounting experiences faced by marginalized groups is unavailable, their challenges can be minimized or even trivialized.
Removing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) from Florida’s approved curricula, a program that develops self-awareness and resilience, thus improving marginalized persons’ chances to succeed.
Considered individually, each of these minority-targeted restrictions might be seen as simply ill-conceived. But in their totality, they are better understood as a deliberate assault on goals of public schools and minority children attending them, who represent 64% of Florida’s public-school population. We must ask: What happens when a state builds its public-school system on a foundation of racist misrepresentations?
When possibilities are blocked, despair and distrust can replace optimism. With DEI training banned, teachers know less about the experiences and culture of minority populations that would facilitate positive interactions. Cultural misunderstanding abounds, and Black students, representing only 22% of public-school enrollment in 2019-2020, comprised 37% of in-school suspensions and are disproportionately subject to out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.
Although legislation denied their children culturally relevant literature, parents may have believed that history lessons would compensate and introduce their children to powerful minority role models who fought for justice. But textbook publishers have revised their content to satisfy Florida’s efforts to whitewash history. The 2023 Social Studies Standards omit Florida’s role in slavery. They mention racism and prejudice but not Floridians’ Jim Crow laws. Concerned about public schools’ treatment of their children, many African American parents are transferring their children out of public schools, accountable for student achievement, and into private schools not answerable to Florida’s Department of Education. In 2023, 47% of Florida’s private school attendees were minority students; more than 33% of these were of African American descent.
Racist public-school legislation is also economically costly for many public-school children, their communities and the state. Marginalized public-school students whose families have taught them honest history, rejecting ideas that slavery wasn’t so bad or that their ancestors were partly to blame for the 1920 massacre in Ocoee, won’t be motivated to learn from texts that are irrelevant or untruthful, where characters don’t look like them or where experiences depicted bear little resemblance to their own lives, and this will have a cascading effect.
Many of these students will be unprepared for standardized tests based on these racist standards, triggering reductions in Florida’s public-school ratings and declines in home values. Fewer minority Floridians will seek advanced degrees, thus diminishing talent pools for critical jobs, dissuading businesses from Florida. They won’t be motivated to vote, believing it would just further empower their oppressors, or know the potential power of their vote to strip racism from public schools. They will not believe that losing their right to vote will make any difference in their lives. Through truthful history and literature, they will learn otherwise. This is what we must teach.
Cecile M. Scoon and Debbie Chandler serve as co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Florida. Jill Lewis-Spector serves as the organization’s second vice president and statewide education chair.