AP African American Studies: The Course That Could Have Been

Written by: Alexis

Edited by: Erich

Visual by: Lucas

Schools all around the world are gradually becoming more diverse and intercultural, allowing for the acceptance of people from a wide array of ethnicities, religions, and languages. One way in which schools can integrate cultural diversity into their curricula is through College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses. 

College Board is an American non-profit organization that aims to create college-level courses for high school students. Some of the social studies courses offered include AP Human Geography and AP US History — both offered here at ISM — along with AP European History and AP World History. Moreover, it was recently announced that the opportunity to study AP African American Studies would commence in August 2024. 

While the development of new courses typically receive positive feedback, as they allow students to learn about the history of different ethnic backgrounds, the Florida Department of Education declared that they would not approve of this curriculum unless certain changes to the course are made. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, defends this decision, arguing that “multiple lessons have gone too far.” DeSantis specifically cited topics within the course such as “Queer Theory,” suggesting that they are “pushing an agenda on our kids.”

DeSantis further adds, “We want education, not indoctrination,” but one of the main goals of history classes is to look at the history of different nations from various angles. He believes that the topics in the course force students to liberally accept the African American point of view rather than merely exploring the experiences of others. 

During a TIMES interview with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, a Harvard scholar who reviewed the course’s topics, Higginbotham explains how “the AP course is trying to give a sense of the different ways to talk about a particular topic. And so there’s room for debates on a variety of things.” These courses are created with the intention of challenging the minds of students to discuss opinions while also learning about new things. 

Several actions were taken to protest against the decision of the Florida Department of Education. Civil Rights Attorney, Ben Crump, notes that if Florida fails to disregard its decision to ban the course, legal action could be taken. Notable figures like the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre have also spoken out, calling the government of Florida’s action “incomprehensible.” She noted that  “[Florida] didn’t block AP European History. They didn’t block our art history. They didn’t block our music history,” ultimately questioning why this particular class, out of all the other history classes offered, was banned. 

Both students and teachers alike, from regions across the world, hope to reach a sense of equality regarding the courses offered in different schools. This can be achieved through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: an approach that believes students learn best through the specific inclusion of material relevant to their cultural, national, and personal background. Created by Django Paris, this concept aims to challenge people to go beyond just tolerating cultural differences and towards incorporating these differences into school teachings. The disapproval of the AP African American Studies course completely parts from this concept, as the government of Florida fails to accept the course the way it is.   

Unfortunately, College Board revised the curriculum, making some topics optional for the course. According to TIME, topics like Black Lives Matter and intersectionality, which “studies discrimination through overlapping racial and gender identities”, have now become optional topics for the course. Although this has become the case, these topics are essential in learning about how the lives of African Americans have not only evolved, but have gone back to the same issues from a long time ago with evident traces of racism and discrimination. Not only has College Board given in to complaints surrounding the course, but their delayed release of a curriculum like the AP African American Studies course can also be seen as a sign of being behind the continuous changes that are being made surrounding minority studies. 

According to UC Berkeley, “Ethnic studies is the critical study of an ethnicity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the US.” Ethnic studies emerged in the 1960s due to a number of reform movements surrounding the equity and empowerment of racial minorities. Prior to this, students from minority groups did not receive opportunities to learn about course subjects relating to their ethnic and cultural background hence, the importance of offering courses like AP African American studies within a school’s curriculum. 

As students of an international school with a diverse student body, it is important to realize the significance of incorporating different cultures into our school to ensure that everyone’s ethnic background is valued. Ethnicity is an important element in a person’s identity making it important to accept a person for who they are. While the AP African American Studies course may not be offered here at ISM, it shouldn’t limit our ability to include everyone in the Bearcat community to make them feel valued and cared for.

Sources

CNN, director. YouTube, YouTube, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elHhuID1LsE. Accessed 9 Feb. 2023. 

“Ila’s Blog.” International Literacy Association, https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-now/2017/05/31/culturally-sustaining-pedagogy-in-the-literacy-classroom. 

Pitofsky, Marina. “Florida Rejected AP African American Studies. Here’s What’s Actually Being Taught in the Course.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 2 Feb. 2023, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/education/2023/02/01/florida-ap-african-american-studies-framework/11136117002/. 

Waxman, Olivia B. “AP African American Studies Scholar on Florida’s Ban.” Time, Time, 1 Feb. 2023, https://time.com/6251733/ap-african-american-history-professor-florida-interview/.