Opinion: If we follow DeSantis, we will set country back 100 years

Anthony E. Dixon is a public historian, archivist, lecturer and author with a career focus on the African Diaspora. He has conducted lectures, served as a panelist, researched and published pertinent information concerning the African Diaspora. In this guest column, Dixon warns the education policies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will set us back 100 years.

Born in Georgia, Dixon now resides in Orlando, Florida, and has authored several publications, including “Florida’s Negro War: Black Seminoles and the Second Seminole War 1835-1842″ and “A Timeline of the African Diaspora Experience in Florida.”

By Anthony E. Dixon

Black history is American history. There is no way to undo the connection. No policy, law or proclamation can change that fact. The 2022 anti-woke law enacted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asserts itself into the teaching of Black history and appears to be part of a concerted effort to minimize the accomplishments of Blacks while presenting history in a manner that sanitizes many aspects of America’s sordid racial past.

DeSantis states Black history is already being taught in public schools. As a former member of Florida’s Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force, I can assure you this is a misleading statement.

Anthony E. Dixon

Credit: Lamonte Gwynn - Lamonte G Photography

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Credit: Lamonte Gwynn - Lamonte G Photography

A Florida statute passed in 1994 requires the inclusion of the history, culture, experiences and contributions of African Americans in the K-12 curriculum. However, like all laws, it is only as good as it is enforced. To this day, only 11 of 67 Florida counties follow the curriculum benchmarks set by the task force while the task force itself now has eight vacancies that have yet to be appointed by DeSantis.

Colleges offer African American history courses but there is a difference there as well. In Florida and throughout the country, predominantly white institutions may offer African American history but only as an elective whereas historically Black colleges and universities not only encourage their students to take it, some campuses make it mandatory.

What the governor should state is that he supports the generalization of Black history within the larger topics of American history. He has expanded this concept to a national level by challenging the AP African American studies curriculum to eliminate cross-cultural analysis. Cross-cultural analysis opens the door for understanding and empathy … not sympathy, but empathy. Generalization lacks the ability to provide a more cultural understanding of the Black experience. A more cultural understanding would ultimately lead to a more culturally diverse community that will become more inclusive. This inclusivity is what DeSantis ultimately opposes.

DeSantis has chosen education as a tool to set this country back 100 years. The last week of February, the New College of Florida’s Board of Trustees (which includes handpicked conservatives by DeSantis) voted 9-3 to totally eliminate the office that handles Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. House Bill 999 was introduced the same week by a conservative representative that, if passed, will dictate university curriculum and ban funding for diversity initiatives within academia. Conservatives throughout the country will likely follow suit in this attempt to minimize or totally eliminate cultural diversity initiatives.

Curriculum changes at the K-12 level have already been tried by conservatives in states like Texas who wanted to change the word slavery to involuntary relocation in their textbooks. Make no mistake about it, there is a widespread attack against cultural diversity and inclusion. This is not just a Florida problem.

DeSantis’ efforts may take the same turn as the No Child Left Behind Act, which was underfunded with no provisions put in place for practical adherence to the policy. Critics charged the law was actually eroding the quality of education by forcing schools to “teach to the test” or to lower standards of proficiency while neglecting other parts of the curriculum such as history, social science and art.

In 2044, the U.S. census predicts, more than half of the nation’s population will be people of color. Teaching an accurate account of Black history to students everywhere could help prepare a child for citizenship in a multicultural democracy. Generalizing and sanitizing history will ultimately leave more than one child behind, but also could leave a whole nation ill prepared for the challenges facing a changing cultural society.