College Board’s revised AP African American studies course draws new criticism

Updated February 1, 2023 at 7:20 p.m. ET

The College Board released the official syllabus for a new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies on Wednesday, the first day of Black History Month. But people are divided over some of the curriculum changes announced weeks after the state of Florida banned the course.

In the announcement, College Board CEO David Coleman called the newly revamped course, which high schoolers can take for college credit, “an unabashed encounter with the facts and evidence of African-American history and culture.”

But critics point out that the latest iteration of the course is now missing several topics and voices from black scholars that were originally featured in a pilot program that will be taught in dozens of schools across the country as early as this year. Others say changes to the curriculum were made to placate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after his government rejected the original iteration of the course last month.

The state Department of Education did not immediately respond to NPR’s requests for comment.

The College Board dismissed claims from a New York Times Article that he has removed any mention of black feminism or the “gay experience” from his curriculum or that some of the revisions were made to placate the DeSantis administration.

The college board also said the revisions were “substantially complete … weeks before Florida’s objections were shared.”

Kerry Haynie, a Duke University professor who helped develop the AP course, also called Just‘ claims ‘wildly misleading at best’.

“We reject any allegation that our work has either indoctrinated students or otherwise bowed to political pressure,” Haynie said in a College Board statement Wednesday.

What the College Board changed in the course

Though the nonprofit claims it hasn’t “cleansed” the curriculum of key lessons related to “black feminism” and “gay Black Americans,” it also acknowledged a narrowing of the “breadth” of the new framework.

Of the units that appeared in the pilot course, those on Intersectionality and Activism, Black Feminist Literary Thought, and Black Queer Studies are not included in the final syllabus.

The framework also drops his exploration of the origins, mission, and global influence of the Black Lives movement. Instead, Black Lives Matter is listed alongside Black Conservatism as a sample course project labeled Illustrative Only.

With these revisions, work by scholars such as Roderick Ferguson, professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Yale University, will now be removed from the curriculum entirely.

“This ‘culture war’ targeting intellectuals, artists and academics has a long, harrowing history,” Ferguson wrote in an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Educationand linked the Florida criticism to its removal before the revisions were released.

What Florida officials found offensive in the course

The changes to the AP course come after weeks of tension between the college board and the DeSantis administration. Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. called the course “awakened indoctrination disguised as education.”

Diaz too marked as worrying a list of topics included in the course’s original curriculum, including Black Queer Studies and feminist thinking. Some of these subjects are notably absent from the newly revised syllabus released by the College Board.

The state’s rejection of the AP course drew criticism from other state legislatures and civil rights organizations nationwide. Three Florida high school students announced they would file a lawsuit against the governor if the state doesn’t change its mind. More than 200 African American history professors also signed an open letter denouncing the changes.

In response, the College Board announced that it would release “the official framework” for the course on February 1. When contacted for comment following that announcement, the organization did not confirm whether Florida’s rejection of the course would play a role in the revisions.

“No state or district has seen the published official framework, let alone provided feedback on it,” the College Board said in its announcement Monday. “This course was shaped solely by expert input and longstanding AP principles and practices.”

Groups blast College Board revisions as political

But civil rights groups, educators and the unions they represent have criticized the new revisions to the AP course.

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that advocates for Black LGBT people, urged the College Board to “consider withdrawing all AP classes from the state of Florida if Gov. DeSantis continues to seek to amend his political… pushing the agenda into our classrooms.”

“We are calling on the College Board to reconsider censorship of its curriculum and the education of our young people to meet the demands of a governor with a radical political agenda, and to stand firm in the belief that black history is beautiful.” Diversity is American history,” Johns said in an opinion On Wednesday.

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers union, said she was “disappointed” with the curriculum changes.

“Too often politics interferes with education, and that’s what DeSantis was trying to do here,” Weingarten said tweeted On Wednesday. “Despite this revision, we remain committed to our belief that AP African American Studies should be available to every high school student nationwide.”

Earlier in the school year, Marlon Williams-Clark shared with NPR his excitement at teaching the original version of the course as part of the pilot program. Williams-Clark would teach the class at a high school in Tallahassee, the Florida capital.

Williams-Clark said it was not his job to discuss with the state governor how some of the course’s topics were covered.

“I’m letting them know head-on that there may be some issues where there’s a fine line and we just have to be careful how we talk about some things and how we approach some issues,” he told NPR. “I can’t hold conversations.”

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