In a summary of its findings submitted to the state last month, the group complained that a McGraw Hill fifth-grade textbook, for example, mentioned slavery 189 times within a few chapters alone. Another objection: An eighth-grade book gave outsize attention to the “negative side” of the treatment of Native Americans, while failing to give a fuller account of their own acts of violence, such as the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, in which Powhatan warriors killed more than 300 English colonists.
Good call, because while Native Americans may have been genocided by disease — and later by US federal policy — some fought back, and that evens everything out.
Hilariously, the Times also notes that that the
White Citizens Council Florida Citizens Alliance is "pushing the state to add curriculum from Hillsdale College, a small Christian school in Michigan that is active in conservative politics." There's just one little problem, though, because what Hillsdale offers for K-12 history and civics isn't in any sense a "textbook," but instead a set of guidelines for teachers, with recommended primary readings like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and probably Rush Limbaugh's awful children's books (we're guessing on that one). But it's from Hillsdale so that's what the kids need.
The Times simply notes that "The curriculum was not included in Florida’s official review, and the state did not comment on the group’s recommendations."
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Florida's Education Department actually does require that schools teach Black history, although how exactly that's supposed to be done in a way that won't upset any hypervigilant rightwing parents isn't entirely clear. The Times says the department
emphasized that the requirements were recently expanded, including to ensure students understood “the ramifications of prejudice, racism and stereotyping on individual freedoms.”
As we all know, slavery and Jim Crow were bad because they were regrettable departures from America's founding ideas of freedom and equality, which were always the norm except in certain unfortunate moments (from 1619 through 1965 and elsewhere).
In a very sad attempt to win favor with Florida, an outfit called "Studies Weekly," a minor-league publisher of weekly social-studies pamphlets mostly for early elementary grades, attempted to completely remove race from its first-grade lessons on Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That took some doing!
The absolutely essential progressive parent group the Florida Freedom to Read Project provided the Times with three different versions of Studies Weekly's very brief lessons on Parks. The first is currently used in Florida schools, and is pretty accurate:
"In 1955, Rosa Parks broke the law. In her city, the law said African Americans had to give up their seats on the bus if a white person wanted to sit down. She would not give up her seat. The police came and took her to jail."
There were also two versions created for the new textbook review; the Times points out it's not clear which one the company submitted, and as it turns out, Studies Weekly was rejected because it messed up its paperwork, so we'll never know what the Florida Department of Education thought of the Rosa Parks lessons.
One version mentions race only indirectly:
"Rosa Parks showed courage. One day, she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat because of the color of her skin. She did not. She did what she believed was right."
Another version eliminates race altogether, making it really unclear whether Parks was a hero or just kind of a jerk.
"Rosa Parks showed courage. One day, she rode the bus. She was told to move to a different seat. She did not. She did what she believed was right."
It's really something of a wonder that there wasn't a third revision that simply said "Rosa Parks showed courage. She rode a bus. Good for her! Buses are big and scary!"
A fourth-grade lesson about discrimination following the Civil War and Reconstruction had similarly bizarre edits. In the initial version, the lesson explained that even after the war, many people in former Confederate states "believed African-Americans should be enslaved" and that they were "not equal to anyone in their community." (Yes, that's already problematic since it suggests white is the norm, but oh my, it gets very much worse.)
That got revised to the far weirder observation that "many communities in the South held on to former belief systems that some people should have more rights than others in their community."
And where the initial discussion of Southern "Black Codes" made very clear that African Americans were regularly denied their basic rights, the second version still uses the term "Black Codes," but says only that it became "a crime for men of certain groups to be unemployed" and that "certain groups of people" were prevented from serving on juries. Sounds like members of those certain groups were treated like they were particular individuals.
For the little it's worth, the Times also adds that
The Florida Department of Education suggested that Studies Weekly had overreached. Any publisher that “avoids the topic of race when teaching the Civil Rights movement, slavery, segregation, etc. would not be adhering to Florida law,” the department said in a statement.
The story also notes that it's not clear yet whether other publishers attempted similar decolorization; to find out, we may have to wait until Florida announces the textbooks that passed muster.
Until then, we'll just have to hope none of the textbooks explain that the Voting Rights Act was passed after John Lewis and a certain group of his friends took a leisurely Sunday stroll across a bridge.
[NYT (gift link)]
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