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GREENWOOD Dist. – During the Civil Rights Movement, Black Americans made lots of progress, but today many of those gains are being reversed.
Ever increasing since the 2016 Presidential Election, right-wing extremism threatens the foundation of America’s civil society. The GOP’s newest target is an AP program, a college level course on African American studies offered to high school students by the College Board.
Florida – Ground Zero for America’s Cultural War
Seemingly in fear that books like the 1619 Project, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nikole Hannah Jones, and Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X. Kendi, award-winning author and professor, exposes America’s national origin story’s racism, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has chosen to place a chilling effect on academia developed by Black scholars.
On April 22, 2022, DeSantis signed HB 7 into law, which prohibits educators and schools from teaching critical race theory or anything that can be interpreted as such. Moreover, it prohibits teachers from making students feel guilt or shame about their race because of historical events.
“No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race,” DeSantis stated. “In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”
On January 12, 2023, days shy of the national commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday, Florida’s Department of Education, under the direction of DeSantis, rejected the College Board’s pilot AP African American studies course, which is offered in 60 piloted programs in public schools across the country.
Regarding the curriculum, the Department states, “As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
While the curriculum may break Florida’s controversial education race law – prohibiting the teaching of certain racial concepts – can be ambiguous, whether it “lacks educational value” will be left to the public to decide when the College Board makes the curriculum publicly available February 1, 2023, — the first day of Black History Month.
The College Board’s Defense of the course’s Educational Value
In spite of DeSantis’ attacks on the curriculum, David Coleman, Chief Executive Officer at the College Board shared with The Black Wall Street Times that, “when you read the framework; it is an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American History and Culture.”
Governor DeSantis’ ultra conservative anti-LGBTQIA stance rejects Queer Theory being taught in the advanced placement course. However, the curriculum seeks to highlight the tremendous contributions of all Black Americans, including those who are queer or same-gender-loving.
Coleman adds, “to be more than clear, no one is excluded. The Black artists and inventors who have come to light more recently, the Black women and men including gay Americans, who played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement, the people of all faith backgrounds, who were so crucial in the anti slavery cause as well as a civil rights costs and the role of faith more broadly within a Black community.”
For example, Bayard Rustin, a Black Queer man, was crucial to the March on Washington and passing of the Voting Rights Act.
What will students find in AP African American studies?
Though misconceptions and lies have been woven about the voluntary AP course by GOP leaders, Coleman told The Black Wall Street Times, “AP is always a choice. No students ever mandated take an AP class. This is not mandated in any way. It is an option. It’s an option for our families and our students. If we can get the course accepted everywhere, it shall truly be an option for families.”
“At the the College Board, We don’t look to the statements of political leaders in deciding what’s in or out of a course. We look to the record of history,” Coleman added.
Unit I – Origins of the African Diaspora
According to Brandi Waters, Ph.D, Director of AP African American Studies at The College Board, the first unit, “Origins of the African Diaspora,” offers a bright tapestry of subjects around African culture, history, linguistics, art and economics, as well as the process behind — and experience of — enslavement (including the role of Black Africans in that tragedy.
The curriculum “opens with the earliest known Africans in what is now a US territory, specifically focusing on a figure called Juan Garrido, who appeared through Spanish colonialism in 1513 and explore Florida. This is the man born in Congo, who traveled to Portugal and he spoke multiple languages and arrived in the US as a free person,” Waters, Ph.D told The Black Wall Street Times. “One of the most interesting takeaways, I think, for students in this unit is that they see those global connections.”
Unit II – Freedom, Enslavement, and Resistance
The second unit, “Freedom, Enslavement, and Resistance,” includes topics “African Explorers in the Americas,” “Origins and Overview of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” “Fleeing Enslavement” and “Black Women’s Rights & Education.”
Brandi Waters, Ph.D, says, “students explore in this particular unit are those early generations after abolition and these tensions between how African Americans struggle to achieve their dreams to have progress so they give birth to the Harlem Renaissance. They built new businesses, there’s a flourishing of art, but at the same time, they’re also dealing with really heavy pushback to dealing with violence or dealing with other sorts of challenges.”
Unit III – The Practice of Freedom
Stories of protest and newfound liberation are included in the third unit, “The Practice of Freedom,” covering such topics as Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the early civil rights movement.
Waters, Ph.D clarifies, “these are forms of resistance against slavery by not only African Americans, but also their collaborators. So whether that comes about through armed resistance through the underground railroad through publishing narratives through fighting for legal change, students get to see the wide array of the resistance strategies that African Americans and their collaborators put together at this time.”
Unit IV – Movements and Debates
Its unit four, “Movements and Debates,” explores subjects like civil rights, the Black Arts Movement, student protests, Black women’s history, music and religion and faith.
Waters, Ph.D notes, “I’d have to give credit to students since then students have continued to ask for this course. And educators have consistently shown that they would be excited to see a new course in this field.”
How the Course Addresses Racial Inequalities in AP
According to the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights data, of the 3 million students taking AP exams and its courses, Black students represented only 9.3% of enrollment. For White students that number was 52.48%, Asians 11.2%, Hispanics 23.3%, with 3.72% composing of other.
“This course is meant to be an innovative way for advanced placement to open its doors to a wider range of students from all backgrounds,” Dr. Coleman said.