College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) program announced its new course AP African American Studies, which will premiere throughout all U.S. high schools in 2024.
The pilot was met with backlash from right-wing politicians, specifically in Florida. Republican governor of Florida Ron DeSantis banned the course in the state because of some of the theory studies in the original curriculum. “That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards,” he said at a conference in Jacksonville, referring to queer theory and the discussion of abolishing prisons. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
On Jan. 20, Florida commissioner of education Manny Diaz Jr. tweeted an infographic about concerns with the AP course that mentioned topics like Black queer studies, Black feminist literary thought and activism. “Despite the lies from the Biden White House, Florida rejected an AP course filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law. We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” he wrote in his tweet. “As we’ve said all along, if the College Board decides to revise its course to comply with Florida law, we will come back to the table,” he followed up with.
The state of Florida has a recent history of laws prohibiting specific conversations in a classroom setting. Last February, DeSantis signed the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It bans any discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary schools. In November of 2022, DeSantis signed the “Stop Woke” bill which prohibits teachings about race relations. More specifically, the bill prohibits teachings that imply a person’s privilege or status is based on their race, ethnicity or sex.
On Feb. 2, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture celebrated the announcement of the new AP course. CEO College Board, David Coleman denied the claims that the course was changed due to political pressure. “They are some of the most serious criticisms that have been leveled at the AP program in its history,” he said. “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” he said in a New York Times article. Coleman stated that the updated curriculum came from commentary from professors and “long standing AP principles.”
Despite Coleman’s reassurance, the changes of the curriculum are reflective of the Florida bills. Although the pilot course in select schools across the nation included all the original topics, College Board decided to remove lessons on Black feminist thought and queer Black studies for the updated curriculum. The Black Lives Matter movement and Black conservatism has been moved to an “illustrative only” project.
Opponents of Florida’s recent bills and the course revision say that Desantis is attempting to rewrite history. President of the National Education Association, Becky Pringle tweeted her criticisms. “When we censor classes and whitewash lesson plans, we harm our students and do them a deep disservice. I support the educators at Florida’s state capitol today to demand complete and honest education for all Florida students,” she wrote.
Pringle, along with an approximate 44,000 others, have signed a petition on OrganizeNow demanding Desantis allow the course to be taught in Florida schools. The other two demands are to “submit an audit highlighting which students are valued in approved curricula and which students are excluded” and “establish a long-term plan for ensuring that all K–12 students are given the opportunity to learn about Black history in the classroom.”
Democrat governor of Illinois J.B Pritzker wrote a letter to DeSantis encouraging him to reverse his decision. “I urge you to maintain your reputation as an academic institution dedicated to the advancement of students and refuse to bow to political pressure that would ask you to rewrite our nation’s true, if sometimes unpleasant, history,” he wrote.
DeSantis has even received backlash from inside Florida as well. Senator Shevrin Jones tweeted “Florida, the place where you: #DontSayBlack #DontSayGay #DontSayImmigrant #DontSayTransgender #DontSayPublicSchools #DontSayHomeRule #DontSayAbortion. Don’t sound so ‘free’ to me!”
Politicians were not the only ones to show their disapproval. Civil rights attorney Ben Crump has threatened to sue DeSantis on behalf of the concern of three high school students.
The finalized course will consist of four units. “Origins of African Diaspora” will discuss the African continent prior to transatlantic slavery. “Freedom, Enslavement and Resistance” will cover the slave trade and the struggle for freedom. Unit three, “Practice of Freedom” focuses on reconstruction, Black women leadership and historically Black colleges. The final unit which has caused the most controversy, “Movements and Debates’’ studies the Black power movement, culture and the civil rights movement. The fourth unit will also include a research project. “When we did this in pilot one, we had one idea for the project, but after getting feedback, we understood that kids want to research. They have their own ideas and they want to do deep dives,” said high school teacher and member of the development committee, Antoinette Dempsey-Waters.
Currently, AP African History is only available in 60 schools, but during the 2023-2024 school year, the class will spread out to hundreds of schools and the first exam will likely be held spring of 2024.