A revised curriculum for a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies downplays some components that drew criticism from conservatives including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had threatened to ban the class in his state.
Some race experts have concerns about losing much of the instruction about African American experience and history. Some of the things the college board has removed from the curriculum include the Black Lives Matter movement and reparations to African Americans for slavery. They are included only on a list of topics that states and school systems could suggest to students for end-of-the-year projects.
Gov. DeSantis said Wednesday he still needs to review the changes after the Florida Department of Education threatened to drop the course due to what Desantis characterized as a “political agenda.”
The course is currently being tested at 60 schools around the U.S., and the official framework is intended to guide the expansion of the course to hundreds of additional high schools in the next academic year.
College Board officials said developers consulted with professors from more than 200 colleges, including several historically Black institutions.
The College Board has been taking input also from teachers running the pilot classes as the draft curriculum has gone through several revisions over the last year.
Critics accused the organization of bending to political pressure.
Earlier this month, Gov. DeSantis’ administration blocked Florida high schools from offering the course. The rejection stirred new political debate over how schools teach about race.
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Civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he plans to file the lawsuit against DeSantis on the students’ behalf if the course is not offered.
The state education department rejected the program in a letter earlier this month to the College Board. It said the content of the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, said he was blocking the course in Florida because it pushes a political agenda and violates state law.
“In the state of Florida, our education standards not only don’t prevent, but they require teaching Black history, all the important things. That’s part of our core curriculum,” DeSantis said at a news conference last week. “We want education and not indoctrination.”
Here’s what’s been removed:
- Intersectionality and Activism
- Black Queer Studies
- Movements for Black Lives
- Black Feminist Literary Thought
- The Reparations Movement
- Black Study and Black Struggle in the 21st Century
In a written statement Wednesday, College Board CEO David Coleman said the course is “an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture.”
“No one is excluded from this course: the Black artists and inventors whose achievements have come to light; the Black women and men, including gay Americans, who played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights movements; and people of faith from all backgrounds who contributed to the antislavery and Civil Rights causes. Everyone is seen,” he said.
The College Board offers AP courses across the academic spectrum, including math, science, social studies, foreign languages and fine arts. The courses are optional. Taught at a college level, students who score high enough on the final exam usually earn course credit at their university.
The African American studies course is divided into four units: origins of the African diaspora; freedom, enslavement and resistance; the practice of freedom, and movements and debates.
Harvard Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad is one of 200 professors from around the nation who penned an open letter in defense of AP African American studies.
The letter reads, “Contrary to DeSantis’s claims of promoting freedom in education, he is suppressing learning in his state and limiting the freedom of Florida students to choose what they can learn. He is destroying core educational principles.”
Muhammad said not offering this course would take education away from students.
″It’s a powerful signal that Florida doesn’t take education as seriously as other places,” he said.
Dr. Tammy Hodo operates a diversity, equity and inclusion firm called All Things Diverse in Jacksonville. She said issues like Black Lives Matter and reparations are topics that students should know about.
“All of these things are very relevant,” Hodo said. “And it’s not anything to be shameful about it’s just so we don’t repeat the same things.”
Hodo pointed to issues like students understanding what’s behind the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of reparations as important lessons for students.
“You’re saying that my experiences with institutional racism while I served is not valid. Or that my experiences in society are not valid. When you take away conversations about reparations about movements, a lot of students will not learn. And they will go about society believing we’re color blind which is not the case at all,” Hodo said.
The release of the coursework follows efforts by DeSantis to now remove DEI programs from state colleges and universities.
If the course is adopted in Florida, the first African American studies exams would be administered in 2025.
The course has been popular among students in schools where it has been introduced. At Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana, so many students were interested that Emmitt Glynn is teaching it to two classes, instead of just the one he was originally planning.
Earlier this week, his students read selections of “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon, which deals with the violence inherent in colonial societies. In a lively discussion, students connected the text to what they had learned about the conflict between colonizers and Native Americans, to the war in Ukraine and to police violence in Memphis, Tennessee.
For Malina Ouyang, 17, taking the class helped fill gaps in what she has been taught. “Taking this class,” she said, “I realized how much is not said in other classes.”