Usually when I scroll on social media, I do not expect to see click-bait headlines and political advertising, but it is becoming more common. I’ve noticed that many of these headlines and ads have become extremely antagonistic towards marginalized groups. Unfortunately, they have gradually become a tool used by Republicans to push their own misinformation, ideologies and agenda. At the same time, there are accounts pushing back against disinformation to share perspectives from those marginalized groups whose voices had been previously left out. Seeing both of these things at the same time can be confusing for young people, and now the place they should be able to come to for the truth – school – is under attack.
Currently, there is a huge debate on the teachings of Black history in the south. Both Georgia and Florida have proposed legislation and imposed bans on what curriculums can be taught around Black history in schools. Students deserve — and need — an honest education. This includes lessons on both the good and the bad things that have happened in our country’s past, so that our children are taught to think critically and are prepared to solve the tough questions of the future.
What is taught in schools and portrayed in the media, including social media, often plays a large part in how people develop their own opinions. Many teachers in Florida have expressed their concerns that students are taking what they see on platforms like TikTok and comparing those lessons to what they are being taught in schools. A teacher recently told Teen Vogue that many of her students come to school with whatever they’ve seen on TikTok or online and she doesn’t feel comfortable correcting any misinformation they’re being taught because they may or may not believe her.
Students tend to pay attention to things they see on social media because while they are taught basic lessons of presidents, colonization and slavery as early as elementary school, these lessons have been known to be one-sided. For an example, the #TikTokBlackHistory hashtag includes lessons about history from a native perspective and will provide information that students will not learn within their curriculum. Instead of social media having to fill in the gaps, curriculums should be updated to offer more perspectives like these – not to cut history altogether.
In Florida, Ron DeSantis proposed the Stop W.O.K.E act, legislation that would censor discussions about race and gender in classrooms, in an attempt to curb any progress we’ve made to increase diversity and help people understand systemic racism and sexism. This proposal would make it difficult for an educator to teach certain lessons in the classroom, especially those involving Black History and current events. But there are parts of Florida’s Black History that are required to be taught in school, which makes DeSantis’ mission difficult. The ACLU reported that a federal judge blocked the state from enforcing the Act at the college and university level and it has been prevented from taking effect in businesses. But the law remains the rule for K-12 schools.
“The effort to get Black history has been ongoing forever and has been resisted forever,” chairperson of the board of the Florida NAACP, Leon Russell told the Tampa Bay Times. An example of the W.O.K.E law being put into curriculum could be the way they teach about Rosa Parks. Most recently, a textbook was shown reimagining Rosa Parks so that students cannot connect her race to what she’s known for. This not only affects students’ perception of Rosa Parks, but will also change the way students understand how her actions impacted the Civil Rights Movement.
As a Black woman, this is concerning. It feeds into the idea that teachers are no longer trusted messengers to discern necessary lessons. Although it’s a teacher’s duty to correct misinformation in the curriculum and help students understand history as it was, the curriculum itself needs to be accurate. But many teachers and textbook publishers would be unable to, given these new rules.
Another piece of legislation proposed by the Florida GOP, HB999, furthers the ideas from the Stop W.O.K.E act by prohibiting colleges from using funds for programs that promote any political identity or ideological references. That could put groups like Black sororities and fraternities, student unions holding multi-cultural events, and courses that teach Jewish history or women’s studies at risk.
Though we spend a lot of time talking about Florida, it’s not the only state challenging how Black history is taught. In my own state in 2022, Georgia Republicans introduced a House bill banning teachers from teaching certain concepts that include racial lessons. Educators pushed back, saying that the law was confusing and too broad, and made plans to sue the state for not allowing them to teach using their own discernment as educators.
Both of these instances in Florida and Georgia gained large social media attention, sparking huge debates across different platforms. One outcome of this is Black creators deciding to take matters into their own hands by teaching black history in fun and creative ways through Tik Tok. One woman used her TikTok platform to talk to her 104-year-old grandmother about her time as a sharecropper. Others are creating videos introducing not only students, but adults to learn unknown or forgotten history lessons that would never be taught in schools with these new standards.
While it’s great that there are other platforms where people can tell the truth, there is also a danger in using social media to spread lies. The fact that history is being discussed on TikTok makes it even more important for teachers in classrooms to be able to be trusted messengers and help students fact check, with textbooks and curriculums that tell the full story.
The truth is the GOP banning African American studies from classes are trying to politicize classrooms for their own partisan gain. Removing Black history from a curriculum influences the way students grow opinions on things. If children are faced with political diversions at school and on social media, without anywhere to learn the truth, it’s them who will suffer the most.