DeSantis defends Florida curriculum that suggests slaves benefited from forced labour

Florida schools have embraced curriculum that shys away from discussing the evils of slavery

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 23 July 2023 18:32 BST
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Louise Thomas

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis defended a hard-right school curriculum that went into effect in his state this week while on the campaign trail for the Republican presidential nomination.

At an event in Utah, Governor DeSantis defended how slavery will now be taught in Florida middle schools. Children will now be taught that enslaved persons picked up skills that they later “parlayed” into profitable crafts after slavery was abolished.

“They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” Mr DeSantis told reporters on Friday.

However at the same press conference, the GOP candidate also appeared to back away from the specific assertions of the teachings, saying of the curriculum: “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t involved in it.”

He went on to say that the curriculum was “rooted in whatever is factual”.

“It was not anything that was done politically,” he added.

The Florida governor’s hard-right record will likely be a key talking point on the 2024 campaign trail - potentially presenting both a boon for Mr DeSantis in the GOP primary but also a challenge as he seeks to woo moderates in a general election.

Florida Department of Education’s social studies standards for the 2023-2024 school year provide lesson topics for teachers including a “benchmark clarification” which instructs educators to teach students that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit”.

It isn’t clear what “their personal benefit” would be in this scenario.

The line is included as part of a broader lesson entitled: “Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agriculturalwork, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).”

The majority of polling puts Mr DeSantis second in the crowded GOP primary field, though he trails former president Donald Trump by a wide margin and faces a number of rivals closing in on his position including Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley.

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