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

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration rejected the original curriculum for the African American studies course in January.
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration rejected the original curriculum for the African American studies course in January.

Updated February 1, 2023 at 7:20 PM ET

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

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

But critics point out that the newest iteration of the course is now missing several themes and voices from Black scholars that were originally presented in a pilot program already being taught at dozens of schools this year across the country. Others are saying that changes to the curriculum were made to appease Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after his administration rejected the original iteration of the course last month.

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

The College Board refuted claims from a New York Times article that it removed all mentions of Black feminism or the "gay experience" from its curriculum, or that some of the revisions were made to appease the DeSantis administration.

The College Board also said that the revisions were "substantially complete ... weeks before Florida's objections were shared."

Duke University professor Kerry Haynie, who helped develop the AP course, also called Times' claims "wildly misleading, at best."

"We reject any claim that our work either indoctrinates students or, on the other hand, has bowed to political pressure," Haynie said in a statement issued by the College Board on Wednesday.

What the College Board changed in the course

Though the nonprofit maintains it did not "purge" the curriculum of key lessons concerning "Black feminism" and "gay Black Americans," it also acknowledged a reduction in the "breadth" of the new framework.

Of the units that appeared in the pilot course, those about intersectionality and activism, Black feminist literary thought, and Black Queer Studies are not in the final curriculum.

The framework also drops its exploration of the origins, mission and global influence of the Movement for Black Lives. Instead, Black Lives Matter is listed alongside Black conservatism as a sample course project, labeled "Illustrative Only."

With these revisions, works by scholars including Roderick Ferguson, a professor of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, are now removed from the curriculum entirely.

"This 'culture war' targeting intellectuals, artists, and academics has a long, distressing history," Ferguson wrote in an op-ed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, connecting the Florida criticism to his removal before the revisions were made public.

What Florida officials found objectionable in the course

The changes to the AP course come after weeks of tension between the College Board and the DeSantis administration. Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. called the course "woke indoctrination masquerading as education."

Diaz also labeled as concerning a list of topics featured in the original curriculum for the course, including Black queer studies and feminist thought. Some of these topics are notably absent from the newly revised curriculum released by the College Board.

The state's rejection of the AP course led to criticism across the country from other state lawmakers and civil rights organizations. Three Florida high school students announced that they would file a lawsuit against the governor if the state did not 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 be releasing "the official framework" for the course on Feb. 1. When contacted for comment after that announcement, the organization did not confirm whether Florida's rejection of the course would play a role in its revisions.

"No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it," the College Board said in its announcement on Monday. "This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices."

Groups blast the College Board's revisions as political

But civil rights groups, educators and the labor unions that represent them lambasted 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, asked the College Board to "consider pulling all AP classes from the State of Florida if Governor DeSantis continues to try to inject his political agenda into our classrooms."

"We urge the College Board to reconsider censoring its curriculum and the education of our young people to meet the demands of a Governor with a radical political agenda and stand firm in the belief that Black history in its beautiful diversity is American History," Johns said in a statement on Wednesday.

Randi Weingarten, the president for the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union, said she is "disappointed" with the changes to the curriculum.

"Too often politics interferes with education, which is exactly what DeSantis attempted here," Weingarten tweeted on Wednesday. "Despite this rewrite, we maintain our conviction that AP African American Studies should be available to every high school student nationwide."

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

Williams-Clark said it wasn't his place to discuss how some of the course's subject matter sat with the state's governor.

"I let them know, point-blank, there may be some topics in which it is a thin line and that we'll just have to be careful how we talk about some things and how we approach some subjects," he told NPR. "I can't lead any conversations."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.
Juma Sei
Juma Sei is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow at NPR. He is a Sierra Leonean-American from Portland, Oregon, and a 2022 graduate of Yale College.