By Kristin Vogel-Campbell, Ed.D.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ attempt to ban and restrict the usage of texts that provide accurate depictions of the history of the United States that highlight Black experience and perspective is nothing short of the perpetuation of white supremacy. The Florida Department of Education website portal that explains the statute claims “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable.” African American history, as taught in Florida, is defined as:
The history of African Americans, including: the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery; the passage to America; the enslavement experience; abolition; and the history and contributions of Americans of the African diaspora to society.
This definition in itself is overly simplistic and appears to put the onus of blame on African people themselves for slavery, in addition to referring to slavery as an “experience” and seemingly minimizing the study of Black history to notable and famous figures. I encourage everyone to read the statute in its entirety and annotate notes of frustration such as I did upon an initial examination.
Florida has a long and sordid history of refusing to properly educate all of its students. A federal court in 1970 ordered the Jefferson County School District to desegregate, 16 years after the ruling of Brown vs Board of Education, however, it was not until 2014 that it was deemed to have met all of the required stipulations. Many districts in Florida, both urban and suburban, continue to perpetuate de facto segregation due to housing patterns, which are also a result of government sanctioned practices that discriminated against people of color. (For more on this, please read The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein.)
As a result of the enactment of this instructional mandate, along with the “Don’t Say Gay” and “Stop Woke” acts, bookshelves in classrooms and libraries are empty or roped off. A recent New Yorker article tells of a bookcase at a Florida high school covered with signs that say (sadly) “Books are NOT for student use.” Haymarket Books, an independent book publisher based out of Chicago, has made three of its offerings free to download on their website, and a Google Form to get additional books in the hands of folks in Florida.
Efforts to censor the teaching of Black history in schools are denying our students the opportunity to engage in authentic dialogue and learning about America’s past. If we are truly committed to ensuring that students are able to critically examine an issue and develop an informed opinion, they must have access to comprehensive instructional materials that don’t gloss over or whitewash out the parts of history that some may want to forget. We need to revisit our history so that we reflect, do better, and prevent from repeating it.
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Kristin Vogel-Campbell, Ed.D. (she/her) is a Coordinator of Special Education in the San Mateo Foster City School District in Northern California. She finds her joy in mentoring new teachers and partnering with parents and families in collaborative teams for concrete problem-solving. Follow her on Instagram at @drvogelcampbell and connect with her on LinkedIn: Kristin Vogel-Campbell