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GOP rep. wants Florida to ‘correct’ controversial history standards

It's not just scholars balking at Florida’s new history standards; a GOP congressman also has some concerns. Team DeSantis' reaction was ... problematic.


Florida’s new history standards have faced fierce criticisms, and for good reason. An indefensible provision pointing the possible upsides to slavery have generated the most pushback, but scholars have uncovered a variety of other serious flaws in the Florida State Board of Education’s 216-page document.

For Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed the board members and whose rhetoric really hasn’t helped matters, the controversy should be seen through a partisan lens: The Republican presidential hopeful wants primary voters to believe conservatives are on one side, while Democrats, scholars and people who know what they’re talking about are on the other side.

But in some instances, the lines aren’t quite so clean. NBC News reported:

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., on Wednesday called on the state Education Department to “correct” its new standards for teaching Black history after it suggested that slaves benefited from skills used in forced labor.

To be sure, Donalds was far more measured in his criticisms than, say, Vice President Kamala Harris, who was far more vigorous in her condemnations. The conservative Florida congressman actually praised the new state standards in an online statement, before adding, “That being said, the attempt to feature the personal benefits of slavery is wrong [and] needs to be adjusted. That obviously wasn’t the goal [and] I have faith that [Florida Department of Education] will correct this.”

As the NBC News report added, Donalds made related comments during an interview with WINK-TV in Fort Myers, suggesting the new standards need “some adjustments,” and state officials could “bring refinement.”

The specific wording matters: While historians and Democrats have been sharply critical of the document, the GOP congressman’s criticisms were mild and nuanced.

At that point, DeSantis and his team had some choices. They could’ve simply ignored Donalds’ concerns. They could’ve listened to his gentle criticisms and agreed to revisit the state standards. They could’ve respectfully explained why they disagree with the lawmaker.

Or they had the option of launching an intra-party attack. Politico reported:

This opinion did not sit well with DeSantis backers who proceeded to tear into Donalds, suggesting he was just trying to tear down the governor to help Trump. Christina Pushaw, who works on the DeSantis presidential campaign, responded tersely “Did Kamala Harris write this tweet?” Never Back Down, the super PAC, tweeted out a meme suggesting the Trump campaign and Harris were working in concert to attack DeSantis. ... [T]hose in the DeSantis administration — including the governor’s press secretary — and Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. also blasted Donalds.

Indeed, Florida’s education commissioner said in an online statement that the standards would not be changed “at the behest of a woke [White House], nor at the behest of a supposedly conservative congressman.”

Just so we’re clear, Donalds is one of Congress’ most far-right members. He’s a member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, and he votes against the White House’s position roughly 93% of the time.

There’s nothing “supposed” about this guy’s conservatism.

But for Team DeSantis, there’s an apparent with-us-or-against-us attitude that isn't doing his campaign any favors.