As a product of Georgia’s public school system, I was fortunate enough to receive an education that touched upon the history of enslaved and free blacks in America. However, like many others, I always thirsted for a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of my ancestors’ journey in America. Recently, Florida’s Academic Standards for Social Studies attempted to do this but unintentionally stirred up controversy nationwide due to how the following excerpt from their curriculum has been interpreted:
Examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).
Benchmark Clarifications: Clarification 1: Instruction includes how slaves developed skills that, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.
Even though the above is a known fact and has been discussed in black families for years, this curriculum should enrich not just the lives of those black students but also enrich the lives of those who aren’t having these conversations at home…thus providing valuable insight into, but respect for the journey of enslaved black Americans.
The essence of this curriculum lies not only in its accuracy but also in its ability to draw clear connections between America’s history and the black American experience. These two narratives are intertwined and inseparable, and acknowledging this union is essential to understanding the full scope of our nation’s past.
Booker T. Washington, a former slave and the visionary behind Tuskegee University, eloquently highlighted this interconnectedness in his renowned autobiography, “Up from Slavery.” Among the key takeaways from his story is the recognition that enslaved blacks possessed certain practical skills but lacked administrative/literacy and business acumen, while their owners often had the reverse skill set. By acknowledging that certain skills (either forcibly received, taught, or gained to merely survive), were genuinely acquired by the enslaved population, the curriculum in Florida sheds light on the resilience aspect that is too often dismissed.
It is crucial to recognize that the outrage sparked by these academic standards is inconsistent with historical reality. I think the curriculum aims to paint a more comprehensive picture of America’s past by including the experiences of all its citizens. The black experience is not an isolated event but an integral part of the nation’s fabric, contributing to its growth and evolution.
Critics of the curriculum may argue that delving into such topics only serves to reopen old wounds or fuel racial tensions. I see it differently. Acknowledging the past, no matter how uncomfortable is a crucial step towards healing and confronting the truths of our history and allows us to better address the ongoing disparities that still persist. If more black boys and girls were taught that coming out of the most inhumane conditions of slavery, their ancestors still rose ‘up from slavery,’ then maybe those black boys and girls would gain the pride, inspiration, and confidence to tackle the lesser challenges of today.
The inclusion of this kind of comprehensive history in academic standards is not a cause for outrage but rather an opportunity for growth and understanding. By recognizing the interwoven nature of the black experience in American history, we can move towards a more inclusive and united society. Let us embrace the chance to delve into the complexities of our past, appreciating the resilience and contributions of all who have shaped this great nation. Only by acknowledging the complete tapestry of our history can we hope to create an informed and sustainable America for our posterity.