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VP Kamala Harris backed national high school course about slaves’ ‘skills’ before Florida controversy


Vice President Kamala Harris once praised a college-level class about slavery taught in high schools across the nation — even though it’s nearly identical to the Florida lesson she recently blasted as replacing “history with lies.”

The College Board’s 2023 AP African American Studies course includes a lesson about slaves learning “specialized trades” that they used “to provide for themselves” once freed — recognized by Harris earlier this year as part of “American history.”

But just last week, Harris whipped up opposition against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the state Board of Education’s controversial African American history curriculum, which states that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Despite her support for the similar-sounding AP lesson, Harris branded Florida’s curriculum as an attempt “to replace history with lies.”

“They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it,” she added in the impassioned address in Jacksonville just a few days after the education plan was unanimously approved last week.

DeSantis fired back on Fox News earlier this week, accusing the vice president of “trying to perpetuate a hoax.”

Demonstrators protest Florida Governor Ron DeSantis plan to eliminate Advanced Placement courses on African American studies in high schools.
Florida’s approach to education about race and the black American experience has drawn months of protests.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

“There is no agenda here. It is just the truth,” the 2024 Republican presidential hopeful said. “And they talk in gory detail a lot of the bad in American history, including, of course, the injustice of slavery.”

Democrats, he claimed, are simply committed to spreading a “fake narrative” about Florida politics.

In January, Harris also slammed DeSantis’ move to block a pilot version of the AP’s slavery course in high schools.

“Anyone who bans teaching American history has no right to shape America’s future,” she said at the time, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Last year, DeSantis signed into law the “Stop WOKE Act,” which regulates the content of instruction and training in schools on topics like race. A Florida judge ruled it unconstitutional.

Earlier this week, Dr. William Allen, former chairman of the US Commission on Civil Rights, also dismissed Harris’ assessment of the Florida curriculum as “categorically false.”

“It was never said that slavery was beneficial to Africans,” Allen, who helped design the curriculum, told ABC News. 

Neither DeSantis’ nor Harris’ offices immediately responded to requests for comment on the two course plans.

Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Gov. DeSantis also pushed the controversial “Stop WOKE Act” in 2022.

In a statement, the College Board said it was aware of the comparisons between the AP course and Florida’s middle school lesson.

“We resolutely disagree with the notion that enslavement was in any way a beneficial, productive, or useful experience for African Americans. Unequivocally, slavery was an atrocity that cannot be justified by examples of African Americans’ agency and resistance during their enslavement,” the nonprofit testing company said.

“Unit two of the current framework includes a discussion about the skills enslaved people brought with them that enslavers exploited as well as other skills developed in America that were valuable to their enslavers. Enslaved Africans and their descendants used those skills to survive, build community, and create culture in resistance to their oppression.”

The College Board said its course “will provide an unflinching encounter with the facts, evidence, and invaluable contributions of African Americans.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. votes in 1964.
The AP course includes extensive coverage of the Civil Rights movement. Above, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. votes in 1964.
Bettmann Archive

Critics have a plethora of other issues with Florida’s lesson, including its use of the outdated term “slaves” and its insistence that racial violence was perpetuated by both white and black Americans.

Genesis Robinson, political director of the advocacy group Equal Ground, told the Tallahassee Democrat that the state curriculum was also dangerously surface-level in its description of systemic racism and its effects.

“When you couple these standards, with the environment, the hostility towards daring to talk about certain subjects, it creates an environment where there’s going to be a complete removal of these conversations … in the classroom,” Robinson argued.

Meanwhile, the AP African American Studies is designed to mimic the breadth and depth of a college-level class and boasts in-depth discussions of topics including racism in the American legal system, how states in both the North and the South exploited enslaved peoples and the role of black women in the Civil Rights movement.

On the subject of enslaved peoples’ skills, the AP curriculum is also more explicit about how these abilities only enabled individuals to support themselves after they were freed from slavery.

It does not — as the Florida version arguably does – imply that acquiring these skills made enslavement in any way beneficial for victims.

Florida state Sen. Geraldine Thompson.
Florida state Sen. Geraldine Thompson was among the Florida curriculum’s most vocal critics.

The official course guide debuted on the heels of the Florida controversy in February. A few weeks later, the College Board announced plans to edit the course so that “students…will get the most holistic possible introduction” to the subject.

Earlier this month, the College Board’s AP program head, Trevor Packer, denied rumors that the organization caved to pressures from the Florida government to change parts of the curriculum, Education Week reported.

“We were caught off guard, we attempted to protest, to explain what we were doing. We were not especially effective at doing that,” Packer insisted at the annual AP conference.

“And we ultimately decided to empower the committee, professors that are content experts that work on AP African American studies, to make further revisions to the framework to restore any of the topics that they would want to restore that we were criticized for cutting.”


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