After overhauling Florida’s African-American history standards, Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state’s firebrand governor campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, is facing a flurry of criticism this week from politicians, educators and historians who have called the state’s guidelines a sanitized version of history.

For example, the standards say that high school students should be instructed that “slaves developed skills that, in some cases, could be used for their personal benefit” — a portrayal that drew widespread rebuke.

In a sign of the divisive battle over education that could infect the 2024 presidential race, Vice President Kamala Harris directed her aides to immediately plan a trip to Florida to respond, according to one White House official.

“How could anyone suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit in being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” Ms. Harris, the first African-American and first Asian-American to serve as vice president, said in a speech in Jacksonville on Friday afternoon.

Before her speech, Mr. DeSantis published a statement accusing the Biden administration of mischaracterizing the new standards and being “obsessed with Florida.”

Florida’s new standards land in the middle of a national tug of war over how race and gender should be taught in schools. There were local skirmishes over banning books, what can be said about race in classrooms and debates over renaming schools that honored Confederate generals.

Mr. DeSantis has made fighting a “woke” agenda in education a signature part of his national brand. He audited New College of Florida, a public liberal arts college, and rejected the College Board’s AP course in African-American studies. And his administration updated the state’s math and social studies textbooks, scrubbing them to “forbidden topics” as social-emotional learning, which helps students develop positive mindsets, and critical race theory, which looks at the systemic role of racism in society.

With Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Biden now both official candidates in the 2024 campaign, each side quickly accused the other of pushing propaganda at children.

Florida’s rewriting of its African American history standards comes in response to a 2022 law signed by Mr. DeSantis, known as the “Stop WOKE Action,” which prohibits teaching that might encourage students to feel uncomfortable about a historical event because of their race, gender, or national origin.

The new standards seems to emphasize the positive contributions of Black Americans throughout history, from Booker T. Washington to Zora Neale Hurston.

Fifth graders are expected to learn about the “resilience” of African Americans, including how the formerly enslaved helped others escape as part of the Underground Railroad, and about the contributions of African Americans during westward expansion.

Teaching positive history is important, said Albert S. Broussard, a professor of African-American studies at Texas A&M University who has helped write history textbooks for McGraw Hill. “Black history is not just one long story of tragedy and sorrow and brutality,” he said.

But he saw some of Florida’s adjustments as going too far, de-emphasizing the violence and inhumanity endured by black Americans and resulting in only a “partial history.”

“It’s the kind of healing students will take,” he said. “Students will ask questions and they will demand answers.”

The Florida Department of Education said the new standards were the result of a “rigorous process,” describing them as “deep and comprehensive.”

“They include all the components of African-American history: the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Alex Lanfranconi, the department’s director of communications.

One contested standard states that high school students should learn about “violence committed against and by African Americans” during racial massacres of the early 20th century, such as the Tulsa Race Massacre. In that massacre, white rioters destroyed a prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., and up to 300 people were killed.

By saying that violence was committed not only against but “by African Americans,” the standards seem to understand teaching “both sides” of history, said LaGarrett King, the director of the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education at the University at Buffalo.

But historically, he said, “it’s just not accurate.”

Generally, historians say, race massacres during the early 1900s were led by white groups, often to prevent Black residents from voting.

So it was in the Ocoee Massacre of 1920in which a white mob, angered by a Black man’s attempt to vote, burned Black homes and churches to the ground and killed an unknown number of Black residents in a small Florida town.

Geraldine Thompson, a Democratic state senator who pushed to require Florida schools to teach the massacre, said that she was not consulted in the formation of the new standards, although she holds a non-voting role on the African American History Task Force of the Commissioner of Education.

She said she would object to the standards as “sloppy” and “incomplete”. She questioned, for example, why more emphasis was not placed on the history of African people before colonization and enslavement.

“Our history does not begin with slavery,” she said in an interview. “It starts with some of the greatest civilizations in the world.”

The Florida standards were created by a 13-member “working group,” with input from the African-American history task force, according to the Florida Department of Education.

Two members of the working group, William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, published a statement responding to criticisms of one of the most dissected standards, presenting enslaved African-Americans as personally benefiting from their skills.

“The intent of this particular explanation is to show that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they profited,” they said, citing blacksmithing, shoemaking and fishing as examples.

“Any attempt to reduce slaves to mere victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage and resilience during a difficult time in American history,” they said. “Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they found themselves in to benefit themselves and the community of African descendants.”

Florida is one of about a dozen states which require the teaching of African-American history.

Other states with such mandates include South Carolina, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey.

State mandates date back decades — Florida’s was passed in 1994 — and often came in response to demands from Black residents and educators, said Dr. King, of the University at Buffalo.

“There is a legacy of black people fighting for their history,” he said.

But as long as Black history has been taught, he said, there has been debate about which aspects to emphasize. Sometimes, certain historical figures and story lines came across as more palatable to white audiences, Dr. King said.

“It’s Black history,” he said. “But the question has always been, well, what Black history are we going to teach?”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting

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