Broward News

State Rep: Martin Luther King Jr. Day Doesn't Count as Teaching Black History in Schools

In 1994, then-Gov. Lawton Chiles signed into law a statute that requires Florida high school kids be taught about the Holocaust and the history of black Americans.

Now, the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) of Tallahassee has filed a grievance with the Justice Department, claiming that Florida high schools are not properly teaching the history of African-Americans in the United States, in part saying that when teachers teach about black Americans only during Black History Month, it may be like "segregating" the coursework in American history classes.

Orlando Democrat Geraldine Thompson has hopped on the cause, saying that it's nice to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day but that doing so doesn't count as teaching African-American history.

"School districts confuse events with instruction," Thompson says in a statement. "While observing the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday is a commendable event, it is not providing instruction on the broad spectrum of African American contributions to American society. While I am concerned to see the development of an adversarial situation regarding this issue, I adamantly believe that the law needs to be followed."

Thompson's statement on the complaint is a bit less adversarial than that of the SCLC, which decided to drop the word segregated to describe how American history is taught in Florida's public high schools.

We recognize the idea that all students are enriched by learning about the heritage and role of Black Americans in American History and this concept is widely endorsed by most U.S. educators. What is now debated is whether such lessons should be confined, some say, "segregated", to one month or instead, incorporated into American History class work all year long during the school year. We believe earmarking a single month to recognize black achievement is not enough.

The actual substance of the complaint, though, does have a more compelling point.

Accomplishments from black Americans span the life of the country up to the present day, and if that's not being worked into the typical history learning of Florida high school kids, Thompson and the SCLC have a valid argument.

Then again, the organization does like its rhetoric.

Many Black Americans are advocating vigorously that Black American students become familiar with the struggles of their history, which has caused many national groups, museums and after school programs to be set up for after school tutoring study groups to remedy the situation. Some educators believe that this approach conveys the message that Black Americans too are an [integral] part of American history. Indeed this approach also may lead students to feel that there is something that is not equitable in the history of Black Americans... perhaps that Black American history is somehow shameful.

Given this, both the organization and Thompson are asking the federal government to block federal funds to the state until all 67 Florida counties properly implement the law of teaching black history.

Here's how the SCLC would like that to go down:

  • Organized seminars or in-services to demonstrate to teachers how to assimilate African American history into the American History curriculum.
  • Also, we are requesting that an adoption and requirement of the use of textbooks that are inclusive of all ethnic groups in all 67 county school districts in Florida.
  • A committee of parents, teacher and concerned citizens of Florida should be established to evaluate the schools' implementation of the teaching of Black American History inclusive in (United States) American History.

The complaint is, however, a lot better than, say, claiming that Florida's history textbooks delegitimize Christianity and promote Sharia.

Follow The Pulp on Facebook and on Twitter: @ThePulpBPB. Follow Matthew Hendley on Facebook and on Twitter: @MatthewHendley.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley