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College Board revises AP African American studies class, faculty concerned about impact on higher education

The state of Florida objected to the inclusion of readings from some prominent scholars and activists in the course. TWITTER/@GOVRONDESANTIS

Assistant professor Kyaien Conner said Gov. Ron DeSantis’ initial rejection of Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course in Florida could be a precursor to restrictions on critical race theory (CRT) classes in the state’s public universities and colleges.

College Board released a revised version of the course on Wednesday, omitting some scholars and figures involved with topics relating to CRT and political activism, according to an article from The Washington Post.

However, College Board released a statement saying the decision was not in response to DeSantis’ concerns about the course, and that these changes were in development before the governor publicly expressed his disapproval.

“We reject any claim that our work either indoctrinates students or, on the other hand, has bowed to political pressure,” Duke University professor Kerry Haynie said in the statement issued by College Board.

The initial rejection of the course from DeSantis was announced Jan. 23 and was soon followed by plans from the governor’s office to curb diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and CRT related initiatives in the states’ universities and colleges. 

As part of his plan to fight indoctrination in state schools, DeSantis said that the class uses Black history to push a political agenda. The state objected to the readings about African American scholars and activists such as Roderick Ferguson, Kimberlé Crenshaw and Angela Davis. Crenshaw and Davis were omitted from the revised version of the course, according to The Washington Post.

The course is designed to offer high school students an “evidence-based introduction to African American studies,” according to the College Board website. The pilot version of the class is currently being taught in some U.S. schools. It is a disciplinary course reaching into different academic fields such as the arts, humanities, political science, geography and science. 

Conner said the language used by the governor’s office is “incredibly clear.” She said legislators believe that DEI and CRT related programs are dividing students and are misinformed on what they actually entail.

“They are pushing a narrative that these kinds of programs and opportunities are a way to create divisions and are a way to be divisive,” Conner said. “We are not indoctrinating students. DEI programs are an attempt to create equity, not to create division.”

Visiting professor Kirsten England said the push back on the course limits students’ options and the diversity within the education system. Taking the course would be a choice that allows students to make themselves a better-educated citizen by showing them history from other perspectives, she said.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump announced on Jan. 25 that if DeSantis does not stop his attempts to “exterminate Black history,” the state’s Black leaders would sue for violating students’ constitutional rights.

Associate professor Richard Manning said that because the governor and the Republican-led congress of Florida control university funding, none of the state university presidents are in a comfortable position to be the first one to stand up to the governor and his plans for education.

“They don’t want to poke the bear, but sometimes the bear is chewing off your arm and it’s time to poke,” he said. 

At a Jan. 18 faculty senate meeting, Manning asked President Rhea Law if she believed in the existence of systemic racism in the United States. Law, however, declined to directly answer the question, Manning said.

“We have the obligation to address all of these things. We have incredible love amongst our groups but we also have hate. If that rises to the level of racism, that is just the case,” Law said at the meeting. “The university stands for bringing knowledge and direction and letting people learn about others and appreciating them. That is what we should be doing.”

Following Manning’s initial question, he told Law that a candid agreement to the existence of systemic racism might be a way to buttress the university’s commitment to faculty.

“I understand what you’re looking for,” Law responded. “I am here to support each of you and I do believe in the fairness and needs for DEI for all of our individuals. We should be teaching those things that support that. But I’m not going to fall into a trap of trying to define a term here or there. You know exactly where I stand and I hope everybody on this call understands [it]. 

Law then restated her commitment to the university’s strategic plan, which mentions a “diverse and inclusive community for learning” as one of its goals.

Manning said the point of asking the question was to have the president say something that would let at-risk faculty know that she understands and finds value in what they study and teach rather than agreeing with the governor. He said the most likely explanation as to why Law evaded the question is that it is too politically risky.

Law’s office declined to comment on the situation upon The Oracle’s request.

Manning said the contrast between education that the governor and legislature endorse and what they oppose is not a matter of history versus interpretation. He said all history, as opposed to the past, involves interpretation. It is a matter of which interpretations provide more of the facts and a more informative, explanatory story about how we got to where we are today, he said. 

Assistant professor David Ponton said what is happening to kids in secondary schools is the riskiest situation among DeSantis’ recent legislations and proposals. He said the students who will not have the chance to take the course to its fullest extent already have an understated understanding of Florida history by the time they arrive at college. They will no longer have the added perspective and research experience that comes with the course, according to Ponton.

“They’re going to miss out on that opportunity in the state of Florida and, when they come to the university level, they’re going to be behind their peers in other states,” he said.

The class would help foster three major skills: applying disciplinary knowledge, source analysis and argumentation, according to the course framework released by College Board. A final project in the course would also allow students to research any topics, theme, issue or development in the African American studies field and integrate evidence from other disciplines such as history or art.

Conner said pushing against DEI and towards colorblindness means erasing critical parts of individuals’ histories. To ignore the existence of systemic racism means placing groups of people at considerable risk for not being able to have the same opportunities as others, according to Conner.

“The idea of saying something that’s colorblind also means that you are erasing a critical aspect of who I am, of who people of color are, who don’t have the opportunity or the ability to walk outside of their door every day and be colorblind to the fact that racism exists,” she said. “Systemic racism exists.”