Column: Caving to the right on Black history, the College Board gives a course in cowardice

DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - 2023/01/18: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference to announce the award of $100 million for beach recovery following Hurricanes Ian and Nicole in Daytona Beach Shores in Florida. The funding will support beach projects within 16 coastal counties, with hard-hit Volusia County receiving the largest grant, over $37 million. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida gov. Ron DeSantis: Do you want him dictating what your kids can learn in school? (SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

One might have expected a leading national educational institution to have the gumption to push back against right-wingers like Florida Gov. RonDeSantis when they try to stick their noses into decisions about how to teach important subjects.

Sadly, no.

On Wednesday, the College Board issued its final curriculum for what should have been a ground-breaking high school course in African American studies. The College Board called the course "an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture."

No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it.

College Board

The final curriculum appears suspiciously to have been tailored to objections raised by DeSantis, Florida's culture warrior Republican governor, and other right-wingers, after the board issued a draft version in December.

DeSantis, through his secretary of Education, called the draft "inexplicably contrary to Florida law” and forbade its use in Florida schools. The state's education secretary, Manny Diaz Jr., attacked it for being "filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law."

The arch-conservative National Review labeled the course part of "a new and sweeping effort to infuse leftist radicalism into America’s K–12 curriculum."

The curriculum is part of College Board's Advanced Placement program, which gives college-bound high schoolers exposure to university-level coursework.

The board says AP courses are "aimed at enabling students to develop as independent thinkers and to draw their own conclusions."

To be fair, the board's actions related to the African American Studies course are as good a workshop in allowing students to draw their own conclusions as one might hope. Any reasonably bright AP student is likely to see this affair as a demonstration of abject cowardice.

Disgustingly, the College Board released the final curriculum on the first day of Black History Month, as though trawling for praise for its unflinching devotion to truth. The board took pains to deny that the alterations in the draft curriculum had anything to do with criticism from DeSantis, the National Review or the right wing generally.

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

Raise your hand if you believe the College Board. Me neither.

The board said the final version had been completed in December. DeSantis issued his rejection of the course on Jan. 19. But criticism of the course outline had been circulating in conservative quarters for months — the National Review's attack, for instance, was published on Sept. 12.

A preliminary, unflinching examination of the differences between the draft and the final version can only raise suspicions that the College Board refashioned the African American studies course to assuage the conservatives.

As a template, let's use the list of "concerns" issued by Diaz on Jan. 20.

Diaz complained about the inclusion in the draft curriculum of writers and social activists Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, Roderick Ferguson, Leslie Kay Jones, bell hooks , and Robin D.G. Kelley. Every single one of them has been excised from the final version.

Diaz's list objected to the treatment, or even inclusion, of topics including the reparation debate, movements such as Black Lives Matter, Black Queer studies and "intersectionality," which places racism and discrimination in a broadly social context.

Those topics have all been downgraded from required topics to "sample project topics" — that is, optional topics that fall outside requirements and won't appear on the AP test. Those topics, the curriculum says, "can be refined by states and districts."

Here's a safe bet: None of them will be taught in Florida schools.

DeSantis has made no secret of his determination to turn Florida education into a shallow pool redolent of white supremacy by avoiding any hint that American society and politics have been infused with racism and class discrimination.

The shame of the College Board's rewriting of its AP course is that it effectively places DeSantis and his henchmen in the position of dictating educational standards to the rest of the country.

There was scant political pushback against DeSantis when he rejected the draft curriculum, other than a letter from Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, warning the College Board that his state would "reject any curriculum modifications designed to appease extremists like the Florida Governor and his allies."

Pritzker observed, properly, that "ignoring and censoring the accurate reporting of history will not change the realities of the country in which we live." (Like DeSantis, Pritzker is being talked up as a potential presidential candidate in 2024.)

Now that the final curriculum has been published and its dilutions can be closely scrutinized, perhaps the scope of the College Board's capitulation will become clearer.

But the College Board has already flunked this all-important test of character. As we've noted before, acts of cowardice in the face of DeSantis' goonish bullying won't appease him, but will only encourage him.

As he works to destroy the independence and quality of the Florida K-12 and university systems, parents elsewhere around the country can take perverse satisfaction in knowing that students will emerge from Florida schools without the skill to compete with their own kids in intelligent society.

But if institutions like the College Board continue to let DeSantis transmit his virus of ignorance beyond Florida's borders, no one will be safe from the contagion.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.