“It was them showing resourcefulness and then using those skills once slavery ended,” he added.
Mr DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2024, has dismissed criticism from Vice President Kamala Harris and Democratic and Republican members of Congress urging Florida officials to amend the state’s African American history standards and reflect an honest history of race and racism in school curricula.
The vice president has also rejected an invitation from Mr DeSantis to “discuss” the standards, telling a crowd in Orlando earlier this month that “there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact: there were no redeeming qualities of slavery.”
Mr DeSantis had previously stated he “wasn’t involved” with the guidelines approved by the state’s appointed Board of Education. He said the standards are “probably going to show some of the folks” – enslaved people – “that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life.”
The development of such “skills” would not have benefited the millions of enslaved people in the US in the decades before slavery’s abolition.
Another controversial guideline instructs high schoolers to be taught that a massacre in the state led by white supremacists against Black residents to stop them from voting in 1920 included “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
“Adults know what slavery really was. It involved rape, it involved torture, it involved taking a baby from their mother, it involved some of the worst examples of depriving humanity of people in our world,” Ms Harris said in her remarks in Jacksonville last month.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, the only Black Republican in the Senate, echoed Ms Harris in his criticism of the standards, stressing that slavery was defined by “separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives”.
“It was just devastating,” said Mr Scott, who is also seeking the 2024 Republican nomination. “So I would hope that every person in our country – and certainly running for president – would appreciate that.”
Mr DeSantis told NBC in response: “Don’t take that side of Kamala Harris against the state of Florida. Don’t indulge those lies.”
The new standards join the governor’s overhaul of public education and a “parents’ rights” agenda that targets honest lessons on race and racism and gender and sexuality, which the governor told NBC amounts to “indoctrination”.
“Those standards were not political at all,” he added. “The legislature didn’t dictate any of that. [The] governor’s office didn’t dictate anything of that.”
Last week, before thousands of high school students enrolled in advanced placement courses begin classes for the 2023-2024 school year, the DeSantis administration criticised the College Board’s warning that Florida education officials had “effectively banned” AP Psychology courses in the state under the Parental Rights in Education Act, what opponents have derided as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.