The recommendation to teach students as young as grade 6 that there is anything beneficial about slavery for the people who were enslaved is outrageous. The “benchmark clarification” in the Florida standards for social studies teachers that states, “[i]nstruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” is highly problematic. Conservatives who are defending this as a “fact” are not only giving leftists ammunition to argue that social justice and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) needs to be in classrooms, but apparently they also do not understand the implications of suggesting such an idea to young students. Now, if you are finding yourself perplexed that The Locke Society is being critical of this standard, let us ask these questions:

If a standard or lesson in California, Washington, or the infamous Loudoun County, Virginia taught students that victims of the Soviet Union, who were sent to hard labor camps, “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” would you be outraged? 

If a lesson was taught to students that stated that those in Chinese labor camps are “developing skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” would you be outraged? 

Finally, if a lesson was taught to students that stated that the victims of the Holocaust, who were placed in concentration camps, “developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” would you be outraged? 

Slaves were forced to work as tradesmen under the threat of severe physical abuse, severe emotional abuse, rape, and murder. In the effort to keep their families together, alive, and in good health, they tried to please those who owned them; they did not pursue slavery because they wanted to build a business learning a trade as if it were an apprenticeship program. As other components of these Florida standards note, many people lived and died as slaves, knowing no other life but that which forced them to submit to other human beings under tortuous treatment. Slavery is inhumane and there is no “on the bright side” to it. 

Although Jean Piaget, a 1920s psychologist who specialized in child development, does not go without criticism, his suggested stages of cognitive development reflect the reality that children’s thinking, specifically that of applying logic and reasoning, develops over time as they are not born being abstract thinkers. For students in grade 6, when they are around 11 years old, many may still be in the stage in which they may still think more concretely as their ability to think abstractly begins to mature. Teachers take this into account and ensure that content is taught more concretely to ensure students will remember what they have learned. In the hundreds of lessons students receive, their recall of each one is simple. 

In the case of this standard, what students will likely recall from the lesson is: “slavery, good/beneficial, learned skills,” which is severely wrong. Even though Florida students are supposed to be taught the “drawbacks” of slavery, they will still remember that, according to this lesson, there were some benefits, which is an idea that should never ever be spoken, written, or thought. The word “benefit” should never be used in the same sentence discussing the personal experiences of slaves who were ripped apart from their families, who were painstakingly working to satisfy their owners and avoid horrifying punishment, and who were treated so inhumanely by those who wrongly believed that “life, liberty, and property” were not inalienable rights. This “benchmark clarification” should be removed. Not only is it outrageous to teach students this, but it is also a horrible PR and political mistake to promote this idea or defend it. 

State standards are the most important thing to teachers when planning units, lessons, and assessments. Teachers are expected to teach every standard designated for their position, and many strive to do so because the state standards reflect what could be on state exams. Standards differ from curricular materials in that the standard tells teachers what students must know, and once that is established, then the lessons are planned. For some teachers, they may spend an entire lesson on just one standard itself, or combine several standards into one common lesson plan. Either way, they unpack the standard word by word to ensure that they are teaching students exactly what they are expected to know. To put it another way, in a loosely related example, the standards to a teacher are like a cuisine to a chef. A chef needs to know what ingredients they must have stocked in their pantry before they begin to put together different dishes for a particular cuisine. They need to know what olive oils, spices, meats, cheeses and more to have on hand in order to create recipes within a particular cuisine. A cookbook, or individual recipes themselves, would be considered a curriculum. 

Some may say the left is just nitpicking one little standard, but they would be right to do so. Everything that is introduced to students must be nitpicked to ensure every word, idea, thought, and activity is perfect and proper to bring into the classroom. The right also nitpicks the left’s standards and lesson plans, justifiably. For example, the Ethnic Studies Curriculum in California contained an Aztec chant. But according to some, surely this could have been overlooked? It was just one little part of the supplemental curriculum after all. What if in addition to 100 acceptable books, a teacher reads your child Julian is a Mermaid ? It’s just one book. Would outrage over this book selection be nitpicking? What if a restaurant puts out a chicken dish with half raw chicken? Would the diner be nitpicking if they said the chicken was raw? It’s just one component of the dish among the well-cooked potatoes and vegetables, surely it can be overlooked?

Additionally, anyone thinking this standard is not a big deal is belittling teachers once again. The work of teachers is so important, especially every decision they make for their students. Standards are a guiding light to subject-specific teachers as they create their units. The development and teaching of lesson plans is crucial from start to finish, and anyone arguing otherwise has much to learn about the profession.

Admitting something was a mistake merely makes us human; we all have poorly worded something or made a regretful decision at some point. Admitting this standard was a mistake is what should have been done when others started criticizing the wording of this “benchmark clarification.” Had the state’s education department and writers of the standards apologized and stated that the wording was not ideal and that it would be removed or amended, this story would have been over, and the radical left would not have new material to bash those of us trying to reclaim our education system from them.