With Education Under Siege, A Challenge for Filmmakers

JANUARY 31, 2023



By Leslie Fields-Cruz

With Education Under Siege, A Challenge for Filmmakers

Tomorrow marks the official start of Black History Month. Although, Black Public Media celebrates Black History every month, February is the time of the year for educators, scholars, community groups, and the media to explore, discover and share stories about African Americans and their historic contributions to this nation and to the world. 

I wonder though, what are American children, teens and young adults learning in their classrooms this year? Especially after the flood of legislation barring the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools. Of course, CRT has never been taught in elementary, middle or high schools. It is intended for postsecondary education only. But that hasn’t stopped some people from rejecting it. Take, for example, what’s happening in Florida. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Board of Education decided that the College Board’s pilot AP curriculum on African American Studies is CRT and therefore can’t be taught in any of Florida’s public high schools. NBC News provided a copy of the curriculum framework, which I spent some time reading because I wanted to identify which films were mentioned in the framework.

The high school syllabi included mostly narrative films like 42 (2013) or Twelve Years a Slave (2013), but three seminal documentaries Eyes on the Prize (1986), The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013) and The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow (2002), all of which premiered on PBS, also were listed.

These are likely “acceptable” titles to the Florida Dept. of Education because — and I’m theorizing/making an assumption here — they exist within the current history curriculum and the titles cover African American History up until the election of Barack Obama. What the Florida Department of Education finds problematic is in Unit 4 of the framework: Movements and Debates. Within this unit, topics such as Intersectionality and Activism, Black Queer Studies, Black Feminist Literary Thought, Reparations, and Black Study and Black Struggle in the 21st Century capture current discussions of the Black experience, Black identity, and Black resistance.  According to the Florida Department of Education, the curriculum leaves too many opportunities to introduce texts that support CRT, which is in violation of Florida’s “Anti-Woke” legislation. It doesn’t take much imagination to expect the following, more recent public media films to also be banned under Florida’s current policies: The Big Payback (2023), Mama Gloria (2022), Fannie Lou Hamer’s America (2022) or Ferguson Rises (2021).

So what does this mean? How will legislation that prohibits teaching race and civics impact public media, and in particular PBS Learning? If our funded projects — which must meet public media’s high standards — aren’t acceptable, then what is?  

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