By: Chak Kai Wong—Correspondent
The education department of Florida’s state government has initiated another attack on the school curriculum, blocking the Advanced Placement African American studies course and claiming it indoctrinates students to “woke” ideology.
The AP African American studies course, having been developed by the college board experts for over ten years, is currently piloting at 60 high schools across the U.S. According to the current plan, the course and its corresponding exam will be made available to all American students in the 2024-2025 school year. The course aims to examine the diversity of African American experiences through analyzing authentic and varied sources, including key topics from early African kingdoms to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the contemporary moment.
Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is among the most active critics of the AP course. His criticism came after the release of a draft curriculum in January, calling it a violation of the infamous “Stop WOKE Act” that he signed into law in the previous year. “When you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda. And so we’re on — that’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” said DeSantis at a news conference.
“As submitted, the course is a vehicle for a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow,” added Bryan Griffin, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary.
The current Florida law requires the teaching of African American history, but the recent policy of the state education department has only made any attempt to connect the history to contemporary context extremely difficult, especially when it is taught interdisciplinarily with the Critical Race Theory, an important field in racial and ethnic studies. “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, and we do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” wrote Manny Diaz Jr, Florida Commissioner of Education.
Whether the Florida officials declaring the ban even understand the topics covered in the course is dubious, because experts involved in the creation of the curriculum asserts that calling the materials “indoctrination” is far from the truth. “There’s nothing particularly ideological about the course except that we value the experiences of African people in the United States. Those narratives that they were singling out aren’t in the curriculum itself. What they see is buzzwords,” Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, professor of history and African American Studies at Harvard University.
Seemingly to appease the Florida governor and to reconcile with his heavy criticism, the College Board later released an updated revision of the course curriculum, excising contemporary topics ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement, incarceration and reparation for slavery. The erasing of more politically relevant topics attracted disapproval from African American studies experts and civil rights leaders. “I had believed the course would capitalize on a hunger of young students to learn ways of thinking about things like police brutality, mass incarceration and continuing inequalities. But the very same set of circumstances that presented the need for the course also created the backlash against the content that people don’t like,” said Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, professor at Columbia Law School, whose writings were also omitted from the course in the update.
The College Board’s decision might not have stemmed merely from the Florida letter berating its curriculum. The possibility of additional restrictions looms since the conservative-controlled state legislatures in more than 20 other states have similar policies in place against the teaching of topics like the Critical Race Theory. “I think it’s a way of dealing with the polarized United States at this point, not just DeSantis. Some of these things they might want to teach in New York, but not Dallas. Or San Francisco but not St. Petersburg,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
DeSantis is also not the only governor who has undertaken the debate over the controversial AP curriculum. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has also warned the College Board in a public letter that his state will reject a revised version of the course. “For some, a course such as this may be one of the first times they see their own faces and experiences reflected back to them on the page. They deserve the opportunity, alongside their classmates, to learn the honest and accurate history of the nation they live in now. One Governor should not have the power to dictate the facts of U.S. history,” said Pritzker.
Sharon High School, in the meantime, also has a long history of offering an extensive catalog of AP social studies courses. The exciting potential of incorporating this new course will certainly be discussed in the upcoming years. However, some faculties have expressed the concern that a similar policy pushed nationally by the Republicans in the Congress might encroach their freedom to teach. “I don’t think that any politician should make curriculum decisions, nor even banning courses. The College Board is inherently political so they have to make changes to the course curriculum in order to teach it in every state,” said Mrs. Malcolm, social studies teacher who has spent more than a decade teaching AP courses at SHS.
“Americans have always cleansed their history in one way or another. The students in the next generation deserve to learn the authentic U.S. history,” added Mrs. Malcolm.