Florida history teachers prepare to adapt amid contentious new standards

TAMPA, Fla. — Amidst the increasingly combative politics in Florida, David Calhoun and Sam Jenkins, both experienced history teachers, find themselves caught in the middle of teaching America’s complex past. Calhoun, who has dedicated more than two decades to teaching in Hillsborough County, acknowledges that history is inherently flawed and not always pleasant. However, he expresses his concerns about Florida’s recently approved high school curriculum, deeming it inaccurate and far removed from the truth.

The new curriculum includes instruction on how violence was perpetrated against and by African Americans during some high-profile race-related massacres, such as the 1920 Ocoee massacre, where a Black man attempting to vote was attacked by a white mob. Calhoun disputes the guidelines’ suggestion that African Americans contributed to the bloodshed, emphasizing that they were forced to defend themselves against the angry mob. Consequently, he asserts that this misleading standard will not be presented in his classroom, as he is dedicated to teaching factual and accurate history.

Similarly, Sam Jenkins, an eighth-grade history teacher in Brevard County, also intends to abide by the truth. He struggles with the wording of the state’s new guidelines, which imply that some slaves benefited from their enslavement by developing skills that served them in certain instances. Jenkins plans to approach this topic in the same accurate and factual manner as always, but he will omit any notion that slaves profited from their subjugation.

The new African American history standards in Florida, to be fully implemented next school year, have sparked outrage from Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as triggering rallies and community protests. The National Council for History Education has released a statement denouncing these new standards, while expressing support for history teachers who may fear the consequences of speaking out against them.

In response to the outcry, a community town hall was held in Miami, yet Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz was conspicuously absent, claiming overwhelming school visitation obligations as the reason for his absence. Despite the public concerns, Diaz defends the new standards, asserting that they cover all necessary aspects when thoroughly examined.

Nonetheless, teachers remain apprehensive and raise concerns about their approach to teaching this controversial curriculum. Danielle Irvin, a South Florida teacher, reveals her caution in choosing her words and shaping her students’ thought processes, all while navigating potential pushback from parents, placing her in a challenging and precarious situation.

As the debate over Florida’s new history standards intensifies, educators like Calhoun, Jenkins, and Irvin must navigate a delicate balance between adhering to the truth and potential repercussions that may arise from contradicting the adopted guidelines. The ongoing controversy highlights the challenges faced by teachers in delivering a comprehensive and accurate education to their students in the face of shifting political and social landscapes.

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