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American high schoolers will learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Black feminist movement and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s racial justice protests as part of a newly-revised College Board course on African American studies.
But it’s not clear how a new course framework set to launch nationwide in the 2024-25 school year will quell political controversy in states that restrict school lessons on race and gender, or among liberals who criticized the education giant after it excluded lessons on Black queer studies in an earlier version this year.
“This course is a vibrant introduction to a dynamic field that offers a broader perspective,” said Brandi Waters, the framework’s lead author and the Advanced Placement program's head of African American Studies, in a statement on Wednesday. “This is the course I wish I had in high school. I hope every interested student has the opportunity to take it.”
Some topics blasted by conservative officials are still required in the official Advanced Placement course, yet the College Board also lists other subjects that drew scrutiny as part of suggested — but non-mandatory — material.
The administration of 2024 presidential candidate and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has clashed with the College Board over a pilot of the Black studies course, which state officials rebuked for being “filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law.”
The 294-page class plan released Wednesday will prompt students to study Black diversity in the United States through the context of Africa and the African diaspora, spanning from early kingdoms to contemporary history.
Course themes highlight how “African Americans have innovated to resist oppression and assert agency and authenticity politically, economically, culturally, and artistically,” take note of debates surrounding the roles of Black cultural figures and include “a celebration of Black beauty through Afrocentric hairstyles and dress.” It also explores the role of “forced and voluntary” migration in the development of African diaspora communities and the evolution of African American communities.
Some material that drew conservative ire is required material in the official course.
Curriculum on “The Black Feminist Movement, Womanism, and Intersectionality” lists scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s introduction of intersectionality, defining the term as a “framework for understanding Black women’s distinct experiences through the interactions of their social, economic, and political identities with systems of inequality and privilege.”
Crenshaw is a leading scholar on critical race theory, an academic practice that conservatives have sought to portray as rife in public schools, though the curriculum makes no explicit mention of the term.
The College Board also prods teachers and students to spend a week discussing some of today’s most hotly-debated topics. Suggestions include debates about reparations for Black Americans and “the rise of a prison industrial complex and racial discrimination that disproportionately targeted African Americans.” That material, though, would not be tested on the end-of-year exam AP students must take to qualify for college credit.
Democrats greeted the update with mixed reactions.
"The college board lost their credibility in academic integrity with this AP African American History course," Florida state Rep. Ashley Gantt (D-Miami) declared on social media. "Such a shame and disgrace that scholars allowed ideological bullies to prevail. They are the ones pushing an agenda and you helped them along. Shameful."
Yet Becky Pringle, president of National Education Association, described the curriculum as "a big step in the right direction."
"As some politicians are trying to whitewash history, I am heartened to see this important course continue, and to affirm our educators' expertise as they teach inclusive, accurate content," Pringle said.
Florida’s education department did not reply to a request for comment.
State officials, led by DeSantis, sparked a high-profile education fight after banning the AP’s pilot course from public schools in the state. The move triggered swift backlash inside Florida and beyond — including criticism from academics, advocacy groups and the Biden administration, which said blocking the course was “incomprehensible.”
The College Board courted additional controversy when a framework unveiled earlier this year appeared to forgo several topics that led to Florida’s rejection. Civil and human rights, educational equity and gender equality organizations demanded College Board CEO David Coleman’s resignation over the botched rollout. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker accused the nonprofit of catering to the DeSantis administration and watering down the curriculum.
By April, the College Board said it would revise the course.
DeSantis said the original coursework pushed an agenda and conflicted with Florida law that forbids instruction that makes someone “feel guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” due to their race, color, sex or national origin.”
“That’s political activism,” DeSantis said of the African American studies course on an episode of the Charlie Kirk Show podcast that aired Jan. 26. “If that’s what you want to do on your own time, it’s a free country. But we’re not going to use tax dollars in the state of Florida to put that into our schools because it’s not trying to educate kids, it’s trying to impose an agenda on kids.”
Florida’s own teaching standards, though, faced a gauntlet of criticism largely over a lesson instructing middle schoolers that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
Florida also clashed with the College Board over its AP Psychology course earlier this year because some lessons allegedly violated state law restricting K-12 lessons on sexual identity and gender orientation, although it was ultimately approved for use in local schools.
Approximately 13,000 students in nearly 700 U.S. schools are taking the pilot course this school year and could be eligible to apply for college credit, according to the College Board. Just 60 schools participated in the first year of the pilot. It’s not certain how many schools will offer the official AP course next school year.