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The College Board’s revised AP African-American Studies curriculum sparks fresh criticism

Updated February 1, 2023 at 7:20 PM ET

On Wednesday, the first day of Black History Month, the College Board released the official curriculum for a new Advanced Placement course in African-American studies. But people are divided over some of the announced changes to 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 as college credit, “an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture.”

But critics point out that the latest iteration of the course now lacks several themes and Black scholarly voices that were originally featured in a pilot program already taught in dozens of schools this year across the country. Others say curriculum changes were made to appease Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after his administration rejected the original iteration of the course last month.

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

The College Board refuted the claims of a New York Times article that removed all mentions of black feminism or the “gay experience” from her resume, or that some of the revisions were made to appease the DeSantis administration.

The College Board also said the reviews were “essentially complete … weeks before Florida’s objections were shared.”

Also called Duke University professor Kerry Haynie, who helped develop the AP course Timeshe states “wildly misleading, at best”.

“We reject any claims that our work indoctrinates students or, on the other hand, has bowed to political pressure,” Haynie said in a statement released Wednesday by the College Board.

What the College Board has changed over the course

While the nonprofit says it hasn’t “eliminated” the curriculum of key lessons regarding “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 on intersectionality and activism, black feminist literary thought, and black queer studies are not in the final curriculum.

The picture also abandons its exploration of the origins, mission, and global influence of the Black Lives Movement. Instead, Black Lives Matter is listed alongside Black Conservatism as a sample course project, labeled “Illustrative Only.”

With these revisions, the works of scholars including Roderick Ferguson, professor of women’s studies, gender and sexuality at Yale University, are now removed from the curriculum entirely.

“This ‘culture war’ targeting intellectuals, artists and academics has a long and distressing history,” wrote Ferguson in an editorial on the Chronicle of Higher Educationlinking Florida’s criticisms to its removal before the reviews were made public.

What Florida officials found questionable over the course

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

Diaz also labeled as worrying a list of topics featured in the original course curriculum, 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 legislators and civil rights organizations. Three Florida high school students announced 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 it would release “the official outline” for the course on February 1. When contacted for comment following that announcement, the organization did not confirm whether Florida’s rejection of the course would play a role in the overhauls.

“No state or district has seen the official framework that was released, much less provided feedback on it,” the College Board said in its announcement Monday. “This course has only been shaped by expert input and long-standing AP principles and practices.”

The groups brand the College Board’s revisions as political

But civil rights groups, educators and the unions that represent them have criticized the new AP course revisions.

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization that supports black LGBT people, asked the College Board to “consider withdrawing all AP classes from the state of Florida if the 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 youth to meet the demands of a Governor with a radical political agenda and to remain steadfast in the belief that black history in its beautiful diversity is American history.” Johns said. in a statement on Wednesday.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a union, said she was “disappointed” by the curriculum changes.

“Too often politics interferes with education, which is exactly what DeSantis has attempted here,” Weingarten tweeted on Wednesday. “Despite this rewrite, we maintain our belief that AP African American Studies should be available to all high school students nationwide.”

Earlier in the school year, Marlon Williams-Clark shared his enthusiasm with NPR for teaching the original version of the course as part of the pilot program. Williams-Clark reportedly taught the class at a high school in Tallahassee, the capital of Florida.

Williams-Clark said it was not for him to discuss how part of the course topic was with the state governor.

“I let him know, point blank, that there might be some topics where he’s a fine line and that we’re just going to have to be careful how we talk about some things and how we approach some topics,” she told NPR. “I can’t conduct any conversation.”

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