July 18, 2024

DeSantis defends blocking African American studies course in Florida schools – PBS NewsHour

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended his administration’s decision to block a course on African American studies from the state’s public schools. He said teaching Black history is required in Florida schools, but the Advanced Placement course amounted to ‘indoctrination.’ The fight is just the latest in the ongoing identity and culture war in Florida that has become a hallmark of DeSantis’ agenda.
Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.
Geoff Bennett:
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is defending his administration’s decision to block a course on African American studies from the state’s public schools.
The fight is just the latest in an ongoing culture war in that state that has become a hallmark of the DeSantis agenda.
With another four years in office came a promise from Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL):
Florida is where woke goes to die!
Geoff Bennett:
And just weeks into his second term, the administration has a new target, banning public schools from teaching advanced placement African American studies, a pilot course by the College Board focused on Black history, arts, science and culture.
The state’s Department of Education wrote this month: “The course significantly lacks educational value,” adding that they would consider a revised curriculum with lawful, historically accurate content.
Today, Governor DeSantis that teaching Black history is required in Florida schools, but added this course amounted to indoctrination.
Gov. Ron DeSantis:
This course on Black history, what are — one of 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 on our kids.
And so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda.
Geoff Bennett:
The move stems from the so-called Stop WOKE Act DeSantis signed into law last year to clamp down on diversity and inclusion efforts by schools and businesses.
Gov. Ron DeSantis:
We believe in education, not indoctrination.
Geoff Bennett:
And it’s just the latest battle and DeSantis has culture war, taking aim at the teaching of race and schools, how teachers can talk about gender identity, whether trans kids can play on sports teams, and COVID vaccine requirements.
Gov. Ron DeSantis:
We are not a sanctuary state.
Geoff Bennett:
He’s made an enemy of blue state governors, sending migrants across the country without advance notice.
Disney say gay! We won’t go away!
Geoff Bennett:
And he’s attacked Disney, one of the state’s largest employers and marquee businesses.
Gov. Ron DeSantis:
I don’t care what big corporations say. Here I stand. I’m not backing down.
Geoff Bennett:
Fights on race, schools and identity that have catapulted DeSantis to the national stage and into 2024 presidential contention.
And joining us now is Fedrick Ingram. He is secretary treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the country’s largest teachers unions. He’s a native Floridian who previously worked as a public schoolteacher in Florida.
Thanks for being with us.
And this class, this AP-level African American studies course, still in its pilot phase, was introduced in 60 schools, including in at least one high school in Florida. What’s your reaction when you hear Governor DeSantis say that this class indoctrinates students?
Fedrick Ingram, President, Florida Education Association:
Well, I am saddened.
I’m appalled as a native Floridian, but I’m concerned as a parent, because we have Governor DeSantis, who believes that he was elected to be a king, and not the governor. This is politics 101 inside our classrooms. These are the best and brightest students who would take this class, would have an opportunity to explore advanced placement of African American history, in the same vein that we explore Italian history, or Japanese history, and or AP music theory.
These are the classes that are already offered. And to politicize African American history is shameful of this governor. And we should do better because our kids deserve better.
Geoff Bennett:
The governor says that, because this course includes the study of queer theory, because it talks about political movements that advocated for abolishing prisons, because it focuses on the reparations movement, that all of that, in his view, is political, and that it shouldn’t be pushed on students.
Can a course like this be taught without including those issues?
Fedrick Ingram:
Listen, a course like this should be taught honestly. A course like this should be taught with the truth involved.
History sometimes involves the good, the bad, and the ugly of what has happened. But we deserve honest history. And if you’re talking about advanced placement African American history, then you’re talking about some of those things like reparations. You’re talking about some of those things like Jim Crow, or slavery, or the Reconstruction and the backlash to Reconstruction.
You’re talking about the Civil Rights Act. And those are uncomfortable situations. But they’re not political, in the sense that we’re trying to indoctrinate students. We’re trying to teach students the truth about American history. And American history involves and is centered all around African American history and the things that African Americans have offered this country over the last 250 years.
Geoff Bennett:
The targeting of this class follows Governor DeSantis’ fight against Florida schools teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity.
How has all of this affected teacher morale and teacher recruitment and retention?
Fedrick Ingram:
Unfortunately, Governor DeSantis has taken a strongman approach to politics, and he’s using our teachers as the pivot point for everything that’s wrong with our educational system.
We have over 5,000 classrooms right now that do not have a certified teacher. And that is in direct connection to the way teachers feel, because what Governor DeSantis is also doing is trying to take away teachers’ voice.
He’s trying to take away the structure and the autonomy in which we actually teach students and the voice that we have to organize each other to build a better curriculum, to ensure that our students are getting the resources that they need, our schools are deserving of a governor and a leader and a commissioner of education, frankly, that is going to listen to them, that is going to understand the needs of our communities and our families.
And Governor DeSantis is not that governor.
Geoff Bennett:
How have students responded to this so far?
Fedrick Ingram:
Well, what we’re hearing is that students are appalled.
When you talk about African Americans and you talk about the history and culture of African Americans, whether it’s through their music, through the arts, through the dance, through the intellectual acumen that we have provided this country, it’s a direct insult to folks.
We have four HBCUs, historically Black colleges and universities, that teach African American studies on a very high level. And to take this optional class that is in pilot form and say that it is not good for our student bodies, it is not going to come off well.
And our students are reacting in a way that they should. They should be appalled and they should be concerned, because somebody is trying to take away something that they deserve to have. And that’s honest history.
Geoff Bennett:
There are at the moment AP level classes on European history, on German history and culture, Chinese history and culture.
What does it signal that an AP-level class on African American history is deemed objectionable?
Fedrick Ingram:
Well, it’s a — it’s not a dog whistle.
This is a loud bull horn of a call to say that African American history doesn’t matter. And that’s unfortunate for this governor, because he is completely think ostracizing a community of people who have given so much to not only the state, but to neighborhoods across this country and to the country as a whole.
And so we really need to kind of step back. And what we’re demanding of this governor is to allow this optional advanced placement African American history course to be taught in our schools, because, again, there needs to be a totality of education that is afforded our students.
And Governor DeSantis claims that this is the free state of Florida, but he’s taking away freedoms every single day from not only our parents and our teachers, but he’s taking it away from our kids.
Geoff Bennett:
Fedrick Ingram, former Florida schoolteacher now with the American Federation of Teachers, thanks for your time.
Fedrick Ingram:
Thank you.
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Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.

Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
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