FACT CHECK: VP’s Twitter Post Misleads On Florida Schools’ African American History Standards
A post shared on Twitter by Vice President Kamala Harris purports Florida middle school students will be taught that “enslaved people benefited from slavery.”
Honestly incredible how quickly a lie like this goes from activists to the press to the Vice President… https://t.co/ecAzbKE0GQ
— AG (@AGHamilton29) July 21, 2023
The post misconstrues a sentence on page six of the over 200-page State Academic Social Studies Standards List from the Florida Department of Education, which includes instruction on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
The Florida Board of Education approved a new set of educational standards for teaching African American History at a Wednesday meeting, according to CNN. Critics of the new educational standards have said it represents a “step backward,” The Washington Post reported.
“In the state of Florida, they decided middle school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery. They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us, and we will not stand for it,” Harris purported via her Twitter post, which reached over two million views.
The claim is misleading, however. The post misconstrues a sentence on page six of the over 200-page State Academic Social Studies Standards List from the Florida Department of Education, which includes instruction on how “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
The sentence follows a learning objective that will teach students to “examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves,” including agricultural work, tailoring, and painting, among others. Nowhere in the document does the Florida Department of Education indicate that enslaved people benefited from slavery or that students will be taught such.
Earlier in the document, the department outlines learning objectives to teach students about the causes, courses, and consequences of the slave trade and the events surrounding the abolitionist movement and reconstruction. The document also outlines positive influences and contributions from prominent African Americans in history, such as George Washington Carver, Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Alex Lanfranconi, the Florida Department of Education’s Communications Director, responded to Harris’ claim on Twitter, sharing a statement from the experts who crafted the African American History standards list.
“Any attempt to reduce slaves to just victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage and resiliency during a difficult time in American history,” the statement reads in part.
Want the truth on Florida’s African American History Standards? See statement below from experts who crafted them.
“Any attempt to reduce slaves to just victims of oppression fails to recognize their strength, courage and resiliency during a difficult time in American history.” pic.twitter.com/7pR8GBFu2l
— Alex Lanfranconi (@AlexLanfran) July 20, 2023
The list of examples, though, contains several people who were not enslaved. For example, Betty Washington Lewis was the sister of George Washington and was not a slave but a slave owner, according to the Mount Vernon website. Ned Cobb was a farmer who was born to freed slaves in 1885.
Paul Cuffe was a whaler, not a shoemaker, and was born to an emancipated slave and a Native American woman, according to PaulCuffe.org. James Forten was born to free African-American parents, was a sailmaker, not a shoemaker, according to the Museum of the American Revolution. There is also no evidence that Henry Blair, an inventor, was a slave.
Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, one of the examples listed by the group that crafted Florida’s African American history standards, learned how to sew from her mother and later purchased her and her son’s freedom and became a successful seamstress. She later became the personal seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln, according to Britannica.
Check Your Fact contacted Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office for comment, and they directed us to Lanfranconi’s tweet. Lanfranconi told the Tampa Bay Times that the experts stood by the examples listed in their statement.
Despite the misleading claim, multiple major news outlets, including CNN and USA Today, reported that the new educational standards would teach Florida students how enslaved people benefited from slavery. (RELATED: Has Florida Awarded 11,000 Teachers More Than $33 Million For Completing Civics Training?)
Check Your Fact has also contacted Harris’ office for comment and will update this piece accordingly if one is received.
Update: This article has been updated to note that the list of enslaved people provided by experts who crafted the standards contains several people who were never enslaved and to include additional information. The rating of the article remains unchanged.