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VP Harris criticized Florida's new history curriculum for its claims about slavery


There are new education standards in Florida, and many parents, teachers and lawmakers there are outraged about how those standards seem to address slavery and African American history. The vice president of the United States is as well. Kamala Harris went to Jacksonville to deliver her objections in person. Member station WMFE's Danielle Prieur was there and joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

DANIELLE PRIEUR, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And please tell us about the vice president's speech.

PRIEUR: Sure. So Harris called the new standards gaslighting, especially, you know, thinking about the history and the horrors of slavery.


VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: That anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities, that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization.

PRIEUR: And she also called the standards misleading, fake, propaganda. And she likened them to people that minimize the history of the Holocaust or Japanese internment camps or how Native people have been treated by the U.S. government.

SIMON: Danielle, you were at the state Board of Education meeting this week where the new standards were approved. Tell us about that meeting, please.

PRIEUR: Yeah. So dozens of people spoke, teachers and students and parents and advocates, and they spoke for over an hour, mostly in opposition to those standards. But then, of course, the board went ahead and adopted the standards. Most people who spoke out against them say that they whitewash American history. And I want to read you the two standards that most people are taking issue with. The first is a middle school standard, and that requires students to learn about, quote, "how slaves developed skills which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit." Unsurprisingly, that's the line everyone's talking about this week.

But there's another standard, a high school standard, where the older kids would have to be taught, you know, in instances like the Tulsa massacre, that that violence was perpetrated both, quote, "against and by African Americans." And of course, we know that's not the case. During the Tulsa massacre, it was Black residents who were killed in large numbers and their property destroyed. And, you know, the board just in general says that the standards are comprehensive and they cover the good, the bad and the ugly of African American history. But they are - you know, they've been appointed by our governor and have a very specific agenda.

SIMON: And Governor DeSantis is running for president, and he refers to having an anti-woke agenda. What else does this potentially mean for education in Florida?

PRIEUR: So we've had a slew of laws that have started July 1 here in Florida. The big ones - we've expanded the Parental Rights in Education law, which people outside Florida probably know as Don't Say Gay, and under that teachers can now lose their certification if they talk to kids in pretty much any grade about gender identity or sexuality. They can lose their certification if they use a child's preferred pronouns or let a kid use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. And then for school media specialists, we have new laws that make it a lot easier to challenge books. So they're going to be facing a lot of book bans in the coming school year.

SIMON: Danielle, what could be ahead next in Florida for teachers, parents and students?

PRIEUR: Sure. So right now it's summer break, and the kids don't go back to school for a few weeks yet. But in August, we'll be watching to see what the impact of all of these different laws are. For now, it's interesting to see the impact on the teacher shortage here in Florida. Last January, halfway through the year, we had more than 5,000 open teaching positions - halfway through the year still - that hadn't been filled. And the end of last school year saw hundreds of teachers resign here in central Florida over these laws. So it's going to be interesting to kind of watch not just the teacher shortage, but the impact of these laws, and there are school districts being sued right now by parents and authors over book bans, so a lot happening here in Florida in terms of education.

SIMON: Danielle Prieur, WMFE in Orlando. Thanks so much for being with us.

PRIEUR: Thank you.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Danielle Prieur - WMFE