By Jeff Mason and Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday criticized “extremists” in Florida for backing educational guidelines that taught the “revisionist history” of slavery in the United States.
The Florida school board this week approved new guidelines with “benchmark clarifications,” including one for middle school students that states “instruction includes how slaves developed skills that, in some cases, could be applied to personal advantage.”
Harris, the first black and Asian-American woman to serve as vice president, flew to Florida, a politically vibrant state whose Governor Ron DeSantis is running for the Republican presidential nomination, to deliver a scathing speech condemning the new guidelines.
“Adults know what slavery really entailed. It involved rape. It involved torture. It involved taking a baby away from their mother. It involved some of the worst examples of…depriving people of humanity in our world,” she said.
“How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, there was any benefit in being subjected to this level of dehumanization?” she says.
The school board on Wednesday approved new instructional guidelines for kindergarten through high school. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. said at the board meeting in Orlando that the guidelines apply to the “most difficult topics” of slavery and racially motivated violence, by age.
William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, both members of the task force that developed the new guidelines, said in a statement Thursday that the new language about slaves learning specialized skills was meant to show they weren’t just victims.
Harris blasted the information in the guidelines as false propaganda.
“We teach our children, not just to tell the truth, but to seek knowledge and truth,” Harris said.
“These so-called extremist leaders should model what we know to be the correct and right approach if we are truly invested in the well-being of our children. Instead, they dare to push propaganda towards our children,” she said.
The guidelines’ approval follows steps DeSantis has taken to combat what he called “woke indoctrination.”
DeSantis, who trails former President Donald Trump in the polls for the Republican nomination, has chosen “awakening” as a key campaign theme. The governor, who also fought Walt Disney over his criticism of a Florida law banning classroom discussions of sexuality and gender, accused Harris of misleading Florida standards.
“Democrats like Kamala Harris must lie about Florida educational standards to cover up their agenda of indoctrinating students and introducing sexual subjects to children,” he said in a statement. “Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies.”
Harris said teachers should not be told by politicians “that they should teach … revisionist history”.
President Joe Biden, with Harris as vice president, is running for re-election in 2024.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Brad Brooks in Texas; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)