Revised AP African American Studies class drops controversial topics after criticism
Updated February 1, 2023 at 2:43 PM ET
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — 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.
In the official framework made public on Wednesday, topics such as Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations and queer theory are no longer subjects to be taught. They are included only on a list of topics that states and school systems could suggest to students for end-of-the-year projects.
The rejection of the course by DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, stirred new political debate over how schools teach about race. Florida officials last month issued a chart that said it promoted the idea that modern American society oppresses Black people, was inappropriate, and uses articles by critics of capitalism.
A spokesperson for DeSantis on Wednesday said the state education department is reviewing the revised curriculum for compliance with Florida law.
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. The College Board, which oversees AP courses, 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.
"To wake up on the first day of Black History Month to news of white men in positions of privilege horse trading essential and inextricably linked parts of Black History, which is American history, is infuriating," said David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. "The lives, contributions, and stories of Black trans, queer, and non-binary/non-conforming people matter and should not be diminished or erased."
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.
"We've been covering the gamut from the shores of Africa to where we are now in the 1930s, and we will continue on through history," Glynn said. He said he was proud to see the connections his students were making between the past and now.
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."
Matthew Evans, 16, said the class has educated him on a multitude of perspectives on Black history. He said the political controversy is just "a distraction."
"Any time you want to try to silence something, you will only make someone want to learn about it even more," 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.
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 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.
In Malcolm Reed's classroom at St. Amant High School in Louisiana, where he teaches the AP class, he tries to be mindful of how the material and discussions can affect students.
"I give them the information and I've seen light bulbs go off. I ask them, 'How does it affect you? How do you feel about learning this?' " he said. "It's also new for me, and I'm just taking it in stride. We're not just learning history, but we're making history."
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