- Grayson McKean
Politicized Education: The College Board’s Implementation of an African American Studies Curriculum
In April 2022, The College Board, a widely known non-profit organization that produces and distributes Advanced Placement programs across the United States, instituted a new curriculum for 60 different pilot schools within the country. This curriculum, titled AP African American Studies, was created in conjunction with The College Board and a collection of 20 different university professors. Its purpose is to implement a curriculum that teaches an extensive history of the African American experience and contributions to society within the United States. Some of the topics discussed in this piloted course - outside of the Civil Rights Movement - include the African diaspora, Reconstruction, the Haitian Revolution, the Harlem Renaissance, and optional topics on the Black Lives Matter Movement, reparations, and mass incarceration. According to The College Board, this curriculum was created to “offer high school students an evidence-based introduction to African American studies.”
However, in January 2023, Florida’s Department of Education announced its rejection of the curriculum within its school system. Spokeswoman Cassie Palelis claimed that the proposed class “lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law.” Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diazz Jr. then went on to say that the pilot draft of the African American Studies curriculum was “filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law,” adding that Florida’s Education Commission did not “accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.” These statements seem to be influenced by the agenda of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who openly rejected the AP African American Studies Curriculum.
DeSantis also previously endorsed Florida State Legislature’s Stop W.O.K.E (Wrong to Our Kids and Employees) Act, also known as the Individual Freedom Act, in 2022. This law prohibits the teaching of certain issues related to race, nationality, and sex. Principally, it prohibits schools and state universities from teaching that a person’s status is inherently oppressed or privileged because of their race, color, national origin, or sex. Upholding the perspectives laid out in his W.O.K.E. Act, DeSantis himself claimed that the new AP curriculum pushed a political agenda through its teachings on intersectionality and queer theory.
On February 1, 2023, The College Board released an official version of the African American Studies Curriculum, however, many words and sources were altered from the original pilot curriculum. These alterations omitted the word “systemic” - a term considered crucial by a variety of civil rights activists and scholars - as well as “Womanism” and “Movement for Black Lives” and utilized terms like intersectionality, reparations, and incarceration infrequently. These alterations can be interpreted as a direct concession to DeSantis - and other people from the same ideological sphere who believed that these words were the root of the course’s reprehensibility - in order to ensure the program’s implementation.
Further, the revised curriculum excluded the writings of black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who specializes in the Civil Rights Movement, Critical Race Theory, and Constitutional Law. In response to this exclusion, The College Board released a statement apologizing for failing to immediately denounce DeSantis’s claims against the new curriculum. They also explained that the topics they seemingly decentered and devalued were rather improved upon and given more attention within the curriculum. Further, the Board stated that none of the changes were meant to appease any political entity; instead, explaining that the optional topics were given more attention through the creation of a mandatory research project worth 20 percent of students’ overall course grades.
Despite the College Board's insistence that politics has not impacted their curriculum planning, many scholars have raised concerns about the possibility that the program and education, in general, are being adversely affected by the political agenda of legislators and the polarization of the United States government. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw herself commented that “even the appearance of bowing to political pressure in the context of new knowledge and ideas is something that should not be done.” Yale University scholar of American History David Blight also revoked his previous endorsement of the curriculum, stating that he believed the forcible removal of many African American scholars previously mentioned in the curriculum was “an attack on their academic freedom.” Professor John K. Thornton of African American Studies and History at Boston University - who contributed to planning this curriculum - expressed his dismay that topics like reparations and the Black Lives Matter Movement were changed to optional learning. The anger of these scholars reiterates the growing country-wide sentiment and realization that politics plays a very large role in the education of American students.