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Experts, teachers and pundits debate: How do you teach African American history in Florida?

 Lindsey Barber is a social studies program specialist at Marion County Public Schools.
Danielle Prieur
Lindsey Barber is a social studies program specialist at Marion County Public Schools.

How do you teach African American history?

It’s a question being debated across the country, and especially here in Florida after the Florida Department of Education rejected an AP African American Studies course.

Marion County Public Schools is one of only eleven districts in Florida to receive an exemplary status from a statewide task force for its African American history curriculum.

The district incorporates Black history into every subject. Lindsey Barber is a social studies program specialist there. She said it’s important for all students to see themselves reflected in what they’re learning in class.

“And research shows that it's good for students to see themselves represented in the curriculum," said Barber. "It helps with achievement, it helps, you know, with their mental health. It helps with their desire to go further in their education."

Barber pointed to a lesson on Nina Simone.

“The teacher was doing a lesson on music and how music impacted the civil rights movement in the Vietnam era," said Barber. "And how, Nina Simone was, a true pioneer for women, and for Black women in that time period. And we analyzed lyrics, and we looked at photos and did photo analysis.”

Even with districts like Marion County leading the way, Democratic Senator Geraldine Thompson said it’s becoming more and more difficult to teach African American history the way it should be taught under the DeSantis administration.

“I worked with a group of students at the college level," said Thompson. "And when I talked about some of the things in African American history, that are not those things that are not being taught in our public schools, they felt that they had been cheated, that their education was incomplete because they didn't have this information.”

Republican Rep. Randy Fine said Florida does require K-12 schools to teach Black history but there are concerns over what’s included in the curriculum.

“Well we require the teaching of what I consider history not African American history, it is history that all of our kids should learn.”

Florida has been in the limelight since the Department of Education rejected an AP African American Studies course over the inclusion of Black Queer thought and the Black Lives Matter Movement.

A new framework provided for the course by the College Board last week leaves out the more controversial aspects and includes a unit on Black Conservatism.

Stetson University Education professor Rajni Shankar-Brown said actions like this one are pushing future teachers away from the profession.

“Even at my own institution and university we’ve had a drop, and working to recruit and retain candidates, it is a challenge in a landscape such as now.”

Back in Ocala, social studies specialist Lindsey Barber said regardless of what’s going on outside the district, teachers there want people to know they’re focused on teaching history as they believe it should be taught.

“Our teachers, they want people to know the good things that they're doing in classrooms," said Barber. "And they want the public to know that social studies is happening, that history is being taught, that authentic history is being taught.”

WMFE wants to hear from you. If you’re a teacher, student or parent interested in talking with us about Black history in the classroom, please email reporter Danielle Prieur at dprieur@wmfe.org.

Copyright 2023 WMFE. To see more, visit WMFE.

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