Retired Black professor, 79, part of group that created Florida’s new curriculum
A conservative retired Black professor is a prominent member of the group that drafted Florida’s new, perplexing teaching directives, which address how slavery might have given enslaved people valuable skills.
William Barclay Allen, 79, has taken on the role of having the public face of the state’s initiatives to reform the way educators teach Black history. According to The Washington Post, the controversial guidelines, supported by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, also include discussions of how mob violence against Black people included “acts of violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
None of the long-standing Florida Department of Education members spoke at a virtual training course for teachers hosted by its African American Task Force. They protested the alterations, about which they said no one consulted them. One resigned in protest, claiming he was “disgusted” by the revised curriculum.
In an email conversation with The Post, Allen stated that the 13-member working group “operated with a collaborative, consensual process, and the result is a product with no single author,” adding that there was “no dissent.”
He advised instructors to teach “the whole picture” during the virtual training session on Monday, using an example of the nine students who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. He pointed to the fact that some of the same Arkansas National Guard troops who blocked students from entering helped escort them inside once the force was federalized.
But the Little Rock Nine‘s complete history also involves months of intimidation and threats and their fear of the National Guard personnel. Given the “Stop WOKE” law that DeSantis enacted last year, which forbids classroom debate about racism that can make children uncomfortable, Florida educators say it is unclear how much they can teach about such occurrences.
“If we can convey no other message to our teachers, that’s the message we must convey,” said Allen, “that the story is never just one way.”
The former government and political science professor has several times been selected by conservative Republicans for prominent posts, including when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the National Council of the Humanities in 1984 and three years later, to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
A Florida native, in the 1960s, Allen was among students who integrated Fernandina Beach High School. He later taught at public and private institutions in Washington, D.C., California, Colorado and Michigan and wrote or co-authored over half a dozen books. He’s among the cadre that includes Candace Owens, Herschel Walker, Ben Carson and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, a growing group of Black conservatives who frequently speak out against liberal policies and support Republican politics.
Allen — who came under fire in 1989 for titling a speech, “Blacks? Animals? Homosexuals? What is a Minority?” — has denounced affirmative action on numerous occasions. While serving as the Virginia Higher Education Council leader, he even questioned the function of historically Black colleges and universities.
He slammed Vice President Kamala Harris for “following a script in the name of an ideological agenda” after she denounced the new teaching plans during visits to Florida this summer.
DeSantis also backs the state education department’s decision to deny a new Advanced Placement African American Studies course, which is just one of many conflicts in which the department is currently involved. There was also controversy surrounding the AP psychology course’s content on sexual orientation and gender identity, prompting administrators to block the class before announcing they would allow it.
On Thursday night, at a town hall gathering of about 200 people, parents and community members expressed their outrage and concern over the curriculum changes and questioned how they were made. Miami-Dade School Board member Steve Gallon III said the “shared ideology” and “shared agenda” of Allen and the other participants made the working group Diaz assembled problematic.
Gallon encouraged the audience to vote in every election and attend school board meetings to change the laws that produced the new curriculum. He continued by saying that parents must make sure their children realize slavery was one of “the most horrific, brutal, divisive, destructive, evil experiences this world has ever known,” asserting one cannot afford to rely solely on the education system to teach children.
“The foundation of their thinking needs to be called into question,” said Gallon, The Post reported, “to marginalize slavery, to misinform the facts about our history.”
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