Roberto Germán 00:00
Welcome to our classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto Germán. And our classroom is officially in session. In this episode of our classroom, I'm joined by my co-founder, my partner in crime, Lorena Germán, author of Textured Teaching. We gonna be talking about what's going on in Florida, y'all. So get ready. Welcome back to our classroom. Today I'm joined by Lorena Germán. Welcome, Lorena.
Lorena Germán 00:56
Hey, thanks for having me back even though you said you wouldn't.
Roberto Germán 01:00
I did say that, but, you know. There's opportunity to rethink things and maintain flexibility as stated in...
Lorena Germán 01:11
I see. I see.
Roberto Germán 01:11
...one of the pillars of Textured Teaching.
Lorena Germán 01:14
Roberto Germán 01:17
Well, let's go ahead and dive right in. A lot of people keep asking us, "What's going on in Florida?" Hey, you guys live in Florida. It is crazy down there. What's going on? And it depends on the day.
Lorena Germán 01:37
Roberto Germán 01:37
Because every day is a crazy day in the state of Florida. But what we gonna talk about today is Florida has approved the controversial new standards for teaching African-American history at the public schools. And what an interesting an interesting decision. That has provided so much fodder for conversation. Everybody's covering it. So let's dig in. They're talking about slavery, right? So that's one of the key issues that has surfaced. One of the conversations that people are having is like, "Hey, they're trying to teach that there were benefits of slavery." I would say make it make sense, but there's no way that you can make it make sense. But go ahead. Why don't you share your perspective on this new controversial issue that is being pushed here in Florida?
Lorena Germán 02:43
I mean, I think first it's important to explain what is going on. That's a good question. So where we have to begin is actually, I think, explaining what is going on here. So the first thing is, is that the most recent, you know, policy that was passed, or the new standards are specifically for African American history classes, which I'm not sure actually at what point in the curriculum or in grade levels when it's expected to be taught. Because I know that as it stands in lower elementary, that's not a thing. So I'm not sure where that comes in. But this new policy or this new standard, I actually have it here. I screenshotted it because I was like, I need to read this over and over. So the way the standards are written is you've got a standard, and some of them have a clarification, a benchmark clarification. So there's like the fine print under the standard. So that's what this is. This is a clarification, a in addition to the standard. So the standard itself is 'examine the various duties and trades performed by slaves.' For example, agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation. It's important to read that because when asked about this, DeSantis yesterday I believe, talked about blacksmithing. He's like, "Oh, well, you know, they learned these skills that later on ended up helping them." And I'll get to why that whole thing is problematic, but that's why he's saying blacksmithing, that was his example, is because it actually comes from the standard. So here is the clarification--
Roberto Germán 04:28
Yeah. I mean, it's even interesting to think about like, why are they asking this? You know, like, what's the intention and what's the importance of knowing the trades that those who were enslaved had to engage in.
Lorena Germán 04:46
Right. Right. I wanna talk about that too. But here's the benchmark clarification. Clarification one, instruction includes how slaves develop skills, which in some instances could be applied for their personal benefit. So that's the language. That's the thing that everybody's citing and quoting on the articles that, et cetera. It's that clarification pertaining to that standard. And I actually don't think that it's bad to teach the idea that there were many duties and trades performed by enslaved people. The first issue here too is like this language. We are in 2023, and for a number of years now historians and people in the field of particularly African American studies have talked about not necessarily using the word slave, but using the word enslaved. Right? Because it clarifies the relationship to slavery. So there's that, right? Like, that language has to be updated. But anyway. So then, you know, your question is, I think, the appropriate next one. What is the point of such a thing? Why would I teach that to students? Right? I think that there is value in students understanding how plantations worked so that they can make parallels to present day, but also to understand how slavery and that period of enslavement was directly tied to and connected to American economy. And why so many people wanted to fight to keep it, because it, you know, clearly directly fed their families. It was how they made a living. So that's why I think that can be important but for that purpose. Not for the purpose of showing, well, they gained skills from it, because then that implies that slavery was beneficial, that slavery was a good thing, that we can look at the silver lining, right? And conclude that some people being enslaved ended up being good for them. It's paternalistic and it's racist. So we're back to the square one.
Roberto Germán 07:03
It's interesting to think about, not just the scientists, but many folks who are in that circle or side of the spectrum, or whatever language we wanna use, but a contingency of people that are on the, "Hey, you know, we need to dismantle woke indoctrination, right? The notion of indoctrination, I would argue applies here. Right? The hypocrisy is wild.
Lorena Germán 07:41
Roberto Germán 07:43
And so, if DeSantis and folks that think along those lines are arguing, well, you know, they're teaching lives, right? And they're trying to change history. And then the counter is to do what? To teach lies!
Lorena Germán 08:05
Roberto Germán 08:07
Or omit truths.
Lorena Germán 08:08
Right. Or manipulate information, right? Because that's what's sinister about this, right? Because it's like, 'Yeah, there were people that gained some skills.' Sure. So now you wanna use that as an argument to say that slavery was beneficial, and then that creates a domino effect. Let's say that, yes, slavery was beneficial, right? Let's pretend for a second. It was a good thing for African Americans to experience because they gained skills, therefore, they are not oppressed. Therefore, reparations isn't necessary. Right? Therefore, racism is not, you know, that wasn't the curse-- the precursor for the Civil War. It's not the foundation for the period of enslavement. It was actually a thing that we all benefited from. So like, if you were to even follow that, that's why you have to stop it right there. Because if you follow that chain of thought, it opens up so many doors.
Roberto Germán 09:05
It's impossible. It's impossible because you can't talk about the enslavement of African folks without considering the physical damage, psychological damage, spiritual damage, emotional damage, so on and so forth that has extended generations.
Lorena Germán 09:29
To present day.
Roberto Germán 09:32
Like, it's impossible. It's impossible because you have to teach this stuff in its proper context, right? So you can't get into, hey, they developed these skills without saying like, yeah, at the expense of...
Lorena Germán 09:48
Roberto Germán 09:50
...everything. Families being destroyed, being removed from your homeland, being physically abused, emotionally abused.
Lorena Germán 10:01
Roberto Germán 10:02
So on and so forth, right? Lack of educational opportunities, right? Even seeking an education can cost your life. You can't teach this stuff without saying all those other critical pieces that folks really don't want us teaching about.
Lorena Germán 10:19
Yeah. But, you know, what's interesting to me is that I remember years ago, like, you know, just seeing all-- none of this is new. So these ideologies, these policies that they want to pass, that they are passing, at least here in Florida and in some other states it is not new ideas. It's the same recycled, you know-- it is the same sentiment and the same ideologies from when the, you know, racism began. It's all the same. So I think about, for example, years ago, and you've seen this video. I shared it with you, and we've watched it, and we've shared it in some of our workshops where you know, you've got this congressman, well, no, he was a senator, and he was saying in questioning this panel that he was on, it was at the Republican National Convention a number of years ago. And he was just like, "Yeah, I mean the West is the one that came up with everything, like all of civilization." And he genuinely, and condescendingly was like, "What has the East done? What has Africa done as a civilization?" You know? And so like, there's that. Then there's, you know, this guy, I know there's the guy who I don't even wanna name, who was on you know, Rush. Whatever his name, last name limbo, was on Fox. And he would make the arguments often that slaves or that enslaved people were fed and clothed. They had housing on plantations. So these ideas are not new.
What we are seeing is a sophisticated conversation around it, right? Or the performance of civilized two sides, right? This respectability of like, "Well, we have to explore all the different potentials. Let's be fair and say that enslaved people did gain some skills." But like, okay, you think white people were hiring black blacksmiths? You'd think they were hiring these people who now have these new skills, right? So like, even these skills, we'd have to wonder, okay, well, did they benefit them in any way? Were they able to make a living? Were they able to actually practice and make financial benefit in a legitimate way, nationally speaking? And then when they did start to do that in their own communities, we see that their communities got burned down and bombed. Like in Tulsa, here in Rosewood, and in other places. So, you know, it's just preposterous to really surround and think that because you're making an argument that enslaved people somehow gathered skills along the way, that somehow, you know, that it is going to eventually make an argument for you to minimize the impact in horrors of slavery, which is the intention, I think, behind this.
Roberto Germán 13:06
Yeah. And the BBC article by Sam Cabral, it mentioned that in the statement that was provided on Thursday, William Allen and Frances Presley Rice members of the working group that developed a new guideline said, "The language on skills was meant to show that those enslaved were not merely victims." It's such an interesting framing. Because it's like, yeah, you're right. They weren't merely victims because they had enough spirit and fight to not remain victimized, right? But what were they fighting for? Freedom? Hello! Hello.
Lorena Germán 13:56
Right. For their humanity.
Roberto Germán 13:57
So, yes, they were victims under this oppressive system. Oh, there goes a bad word. I said oppressive. We can't say oppress the privilege, right? They're removing that from the curriculum. Removing that from the standards. You can't use this type of oppress the privilege. We can't say that. This is wild to me. This is wild. And just so folks are clear, we're not advocating for anybody, especially current day, to operate from a deficit mindset. We're not encouraging folks to see themselves as victims, but we're also not letting perpetrators off the hook.
Lorena Germán 14:42
Roberto Germán 14:43
Sorry, not sorry. Wrong is wrong. And so, would we say that somebody who experienced a crime, right? Let's say you're out shopping and there's a robbery, and you weren't the target, but, you know, you got hit by a stray bullet. Would we say that person was not merely a victim? Well, they were a shopper. They were a victim, but they were a shopper. So they weren't merely a victim. But you were still a victim, you know? You got shot.
Lorena Germán 15:34
I mean, that's why I'm saying that even that wording, right? They're not merely a victim. That is the wording. That's the expression of the idea of minimizing slavery, of proving that this system was in fact not so bad, right? And so to discredit present-day arguments and movements. The other thing is right, like, so it's crazy because you sit and you have to actually now in a classroom, right? Because immediately I'm like, "Okay, if I'm a teacher, what in the world am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to address this?" And they're really-- your hands are tied. Which is ironic, because this is supposedly the party, and I don't even mean to make this about political parties, but, you know, he's running for president in a political party, and he has become senator, I mean, governor through a political party. But this is the party of freedom, and they're fighting for freedom of speech, and they're fighting for freedom of learning. But you're ironically limiting that by bringing in untruths, by lying. By lying. So, you know, the irony of it and I think the other thing that I've been thinking about too is this all proves the things they've been trying to disprove so strongly, right? So the argument that slavery wasn't so bad proves that slavery was so bad. That's why you're trying to minimize it. That's why you're trying to argue that it's something we shouldn't keep talking about. But why are we not gonna talk about something that you have not made amends for?
Roberto Germán 17:32
It's almost like when one person offends another person, and then they start their apology by saying, "Well, I apologize if I offended you."
Lorena Germán 17:44
Or, "I know it's not that serious, but, you know, just in case."
Roberto Germán 17:46
No, you know that you did.
Lorena Germán 17:49
That's what we need to acknowledge.
Roberto Germán 17:50
You know that you did. So stop. And fully embrace the opportunity to apologize and then work towards restoration.
Lorena Germán 18:00
And here's the other thing 'cause the victim language is really important because that's some of the language that even black folks have used who support some of this, right? That language of I'm not a victim, I don't wanna be seen as a victim. And I think it's important to address that.
Roberto Germán 18:17
Which I completely understand. That resonates with me.
Lorena Germán 18:22
Yes. Here's the thing. I think immediately of the work of Dr. Eve Tuck, right? Which I've cited in the Anti-racist Teacher. When she talks about suspending damage, and she talks about us as-- well, she talks about researchers there, but I apply it to education, right? That the narratives that we teach, the books that we choose, the content that we pass on to students, and that we structure with our teaching should both show struggle and defeat, because that is a true part of people's histories, but also the joy and the resilience, to your point earlier about, yeah, they were trying to survive, right? Like, they developed skills to survive. So yes, do we want to address the truth of the struggle and the hardship that African Americans specifically have experienced in this nation? Absolutely it must. Because it speaks to current conditions in this society. And that experience is not the totality of who they are. That experience doesn't define them. It has shaped them as a people, as a group, but it is not who they are or all of who they were, which is why that word enslave is important instead of slave. Because slave is like who you are versus enslave is what was done to you. And so it implies that there was an enslaver. And it welcomes other people into that conversation.
Roberto Germán 19:43
Right. It implies there was a system, there was a hierarchy. It implies that there were certain folks who were running the system. It implies that there were benefits to one group and not the other. And listen, they're doing all types of things--
Lorena Germán 20:03
Roberto Germán 20:04
Right. Right. Verbal gymnastics. Trying to somersault your way out of the truth. Like this was a reality. It's an ugly reality. And nobody likes this. I guess the people that, you know, benefited the most and like really were implementing and trying to sustain the system did like it. But like the average same person with a heart and some type of conscious does not like this. And I don't think most people wanna be talking about this constantly. I don't wanna talk about this all the time. But like, you give us no choice when you keep doing this stupidity. This is what they said. This is what the people said. They said, "Florida students deserve to learn how slaves took advantage of whatever circumstances they were into benefit themselves and the community of African descendants." And then the education commissioner, Manny Diaz--
Lorena Germán 21:12
There's a call to remove him.
Roberto Germán 21:14
As age-appropriate, we go into some of the tougher subjects all the way into the beginnings of the slave trade, Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement, and everything that occurred throughout our history. Hey, Manny, we can't trust you.
Lorena Germán 21:31
Roberto Germán 21:32
You're telling us we can't even use words like privilege and oppressed. We can't trust you. That's just ridiculous.
Lorena Germán 21:43
What I was gonna say was, to your point, like the irony of them, I'm not sure who them is right now, but them, maybe who support these things and who are the anti-woke and anti-CRT folks, right? The irony of them claiming that those of us who are in agreement with teaching about truth and teaching things truthfully, that we wanna bring race into everything. The irony. Yet you're the one who continues to keep up this racist system alive. And the ideologies that feed that system.
Roberto Germán 22:16
They inspire us to keep going. Anybody who's been around me, who's close to me, who rocks with me on a daily basis, knows I'd rather be playing pickleball. I could be out there getting my game up, getting myself to the next level.
Lorena Germán 22:35
Roberto Germán 22:36
But I gotta put that on pause because of this madness.
Lorena Germán 22:40
Roberto Germán 22:42
Oh, this is wild. This is wild. We're gonna pump the brakes. And then in the next part of our conversation, we're gonna get a little deeper into thinking about what our colleagues, educators are experiencing, right? And how we could best support them. As always, your engagement in our classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show, and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto Germán.