The official curriculum for a new high school course on African-American studies downplays several elements that have drawn criticism from US conservatives, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Topics like the Black Lives Matter movement and queer life aren’t part of the exam in the new framework announced Wednesday. They are included only in the list of sample project topics that state and school systems can select for assignment.
This course joins the 38 undergraduate college-level classes offered to high school students by the Advanced Placement (AP) program and is currently being tested in 60 schools across the United States. Official materials aim to guide expansion to hundreds more high schools in the next academic year.
According to the College Board, which oversees the AP program, the course’s developers consulted professors at more than 200 colleges and universities, including historically black institutions.
Republican DeSantis’ refusal to take the course sparked renewed political debate over how schools teach about race.
In January, his state published a chart that said the course promotes the idea that modern American society oppresses blacks, other minorities, and women. And it was also emphasized that it included articles by capitalist critics that the DeSantis administration judged inappropriate.
The Florida Department of Education has told the College Board it will ban the course unless changes are made.
DeSantis, a possible 2024 Republican presidential nominee, said he was blocking the course in Florida to advance his political agenda.
“In Florida, our educational standards not only prevent us from teaching black history, they mandate that we teach everything that matters,” DeSantis said at a press conference last week. We want education, not indoctrination.”
In a written statement released Wednesday, College Board CEO David Coleman said the course is a “resolute encounter with the facts and evidence of African-American history and culture.”
“No one is left out of this course. Black artists and inventors whose achievements have been identified. Black women and men, including gay Americans, who have played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement. And people of faith from all backgrounds who contributed to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.
Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana is among the schools piloting the new course. So many students were interested in a course there that Teacher Emmitt Glynn is offering two classes instead of just his one class as originally planned.
This week his students read a selection of “The Wretched of the Earth” by Franz Fanon, which deals with the violence inherent in colonial societies. During a lively discussion, students related the text to what they learned about conflicts between settlers and Native Americans, the war in Ukraine, and police violence in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We’ve covered everything from the coast of Africa to where we are today in the 1930s, and continue throughout history,” Glynn said. He said he was proud of his students for making connections between the past and the present.
For Malina Ouyang, 17, taking classes helped fill the gaps in what she was taught. “Taking this class made me realize how much other classes don’t tell you,” she said.
16-year-old Matthew Evans said the class taught him different perspectives on black history. He said the political controversy was just a “distraction”.
“Any time you try to silence something, it just makes someone want to know more about it,” he said.
The College Board offers AP courses across a range of academic disciplines, including math, science, social studies, foreign languages and art. Course is optional. They are taught at the college level, and students who do well enough on their final exams usually get credit for their courses at college.
The African American Studies course is divided into four units. Liberty, enslavement, resistance. practice of freedom; and movement and debate.
Teaching an AP class in Malcolm Reed’s classroom at St. Amant High School in Louisiana, he strives to pay attention to the impact of material and discussion on students.
“I gave them the information and saw the light bulb go out,” he said. “I ask them, ‘How does that affect you? How do you feel about learning this? It’s new to me too and I’m taking it one step further. We are not just learning history, we are making history.”