The Heritage Foundation’s president, Kevin Roberts, recently defended the new Florida social studies curriculum amid considerable backlash over its African American studies section.
The controversy revolves around a single sentence in the curriculum that states: “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized Florida’s curriculum, arguing that it implies slavery was beneficial.
But, Kevin Roberts with The Heritage Foundation dismissed these claims and praised the curriculum as “excellent.”
“The outcry over Florida’s African American History standards is absurd,” he tweeted. “That happens to be my academic field as a historian; I use to write extensively—including curriculum standards—on the topic. So I took some time to review Florida’s. The bottom line: they are excellent.”
Roberts emphasized that while it is accurate to acknowledge that slaves acquired skills during their enslavement, this should not be interpreted as suggesting that slavery was beneficial. Instead, he saw it as a testament to the resilience of those who endured the “evil system.”
He also commended Florida’s willingness to tackle challenging topics and suggested that other states should follow its example.
The controversy started when Vice President Kamala Harris went to Florida over a week ago to address the new curriculum. She accused “extremist leaders” of gaslighting by replacing “history with lies,” teaching that “enslaved people benefitted from slavery.” South Carolina Senator and Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott also joined in the criticism, describing slavery as a devastating system that involved dividing families, harming humans, and raping wives.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican presidential candidate, clarified that he was not involved in the curriculum development. Nonetheless, he applauded the standards’ creators for their good work and accused politicians of unfairly maligning Florida. He extended an invitation to Vice President Harris to discuss the standards further, but as of now, there has been no response from her.
The Florida Board of Education had to update its African American history education to comply with House Bill 7, known as the Stop WOKE Act. The bill prohibits teaching that any one race serves as the oppressor and another as the oppressed. A work group of education stakeholders, most of whom work in Florida’s public schools, was formed to review the curriculum and create new standards, which are the ones now facing scrutiny.
Earlier this year, the Florida Department of Education faced backlash after rejecting a pilot Advanced Placement African American Studies course from the College Board. Governor DeSantis argued that the pilot course contained several “neo-Marxism” principles, such as intersectionality and “Black Queer Studies,” which violated the Stop WOKE Act.
The Daily Wire reported that the College Board has a nearly identical course to Florida’s new social studies curriculum in its African American Studies for 2023-2024. In one section titled “Essential Knowledge,” it reads: “In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South. Once free, African Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.” The College Board’s AP prep courses are accessible to thousands of schools across the country.