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The South Florida Roundup

Post 'Stop W.O.K.E. Act': Teaching Black history in Florida schools

Gov. Ron DeSantis stands infront of a podium with his hands spread out, addressing the crowd. Behind him stands a group of children and adults with signs that read "STOP WOKE" and have "CRT" crossed out, meaning no critical race theory.
Daniel A. Varela
Miami Herald
Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the crowd before publicly signing HB7, "individual freedom," also dubbed the "stop WOKE" bill during a news conference at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens on Friday, April 22, 2022.

The Florida Department of Education recently rejected parts of the College Board’s Advanced Placement curriculum covering African American studies for high school students, an action that has spawned criticism and a legal challenge from opponents.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the course violates legislation dubbed the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act" he signed last year. It bars instruction that defines people as necessarily oppressed or privileged based on their race. At least some writers, the course cites, believe modern U.S. society endorses white supremacy while oppressing racial minorities, gays and women.

“This course on Black history, what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda,” said DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024.

Florida House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell called the administration’s rejection of the course “cowardly” and said it “sends a clear message that Black Americans’ history does not count in Florida.”

In a Jan. 18 tweet, Commissioner of Education, Manny Diaz Jr., objected to scholarly contributions from Black writers and academics, citing examples of what he calls “woke indoctrination masquerading as education.”

"We have a robust African American history curriculum with over five courses in our state and it is required teaching," Diaz told Fox Newson Jan. 25.

Diaz said the state would come back to the table once the Board revises the course to comply with Florida law.

On the South Florida Roundup, we spoke about the state’s decision for rejecting the class and what it means for K-12 education.

In addition to Black queer studies, some of the particular subjects opposed by DeSantis and the state Department of Education focused on prison abolition and the reparations movement. They also flagged writers such as veteran activist Angela Davis and the late bell hooks, a Black feminist and influential writer.

“I think it's important to say the College Board that oversees AP courses has been pretty tight-lipped as far as what is in the curriculum at this point,” said Kate Payne, WLRN’s education reporter.

“But previous reporting on the course says it's not just focused on the history of chattel slavery in the U.S., but also movements for civil rights and the Black experience in America, culture and music and literature.”

The main focus of the “Stop W.O.K.E. Act” is to ban students from feeling guilt on behalf of the actions of others during certain lessons.

However, Payne said she is hearing from educators that this act has left them afraid and intimidated.

“I talked to one educator who says they've been waiting for years for this AP course, really looking forward to it and for the opportunity to teach African American history in their classroom as an academic discipline. And this is such a blow for them,” she said.

The rejection of this course brings up broader concerns for educators.

Brian Knowles, manager of the Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust, and Gender Studies in the School District of Palm Beach County, said this causes alarm for the curriculum they already have in place.

When developing curriculum centered around Black history, said Knowles, the school district strives to present a well-balanced, authentic perspective of Black history. However, he admits that depicting the difficult side of Black history without violating new state laws is a challenge for educators.

“Inevitably there are parts of our history segments that are very ugly and very despondent, which is not our entire history, obviously, but those things actually happened,” he said. “So how do we still approach those particular topics without violating state laws is a huge concern.”

“What is the possible, almost imminent danger of close examination of what we teach and how it can be interpreted as critical race theory or something that has deleterious effects on a student?” he said.

Dr. Tameka Bradley Hobbs, the Library Regional Director of the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, has seen an increase in the last several years of Black families that have opted to school their children at home using resources from the African-American Research Library.

She said the needs and desires of Black families and children are what is missing from this conversation.

“So much of this controversy and the focus has been on protecting white children from the imagined guilt that comes with learning the difficult facts of Black history. But we also need to be able to provide those facts,” she said.

The College Board announced that they'll be releasing the official revised framework of the AP AfricanAmerican course February 1st, the first day of Black History Month. They have not commented directly on actions of DeSantis and the state department of education.

"We are grateful for the contributions of experts, teachers and students and look forward to sharing the framework broadly," said College Board spokesperson Jerome White in a statement.

On the South Florida Roundup, we also spoke about the current state of the Office of Election Crimes and Security and plans to redevelop the City of Riviera Beach.

Listen above.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.