The College Board Strips Down Its A.P. Curriculum for African American Studies
Anemona Hartocollis and Eliza Fawcett, New York Times, February 1, 2023
After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives.
The College Board purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.
And it added something new: “Black conservatism” is now offered as an idea for a research project.
When it announced the A.P. course in August, the College Board clearly believed it was providing a class whose time had come, and it was celebrated by eminent scholars like Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard as an affirmation of the importance of African American studies. But the coursequickly ran into a political buzz saw — first from conservatives after an early draft leaked to conservative publications like The Florida Standard and National Review. And then, once the curriculum was released on Wednesday, some academics and liberal groups protested the changes.
The dispute over the A.P. course is about more than just the content of a high school class. Education is the center of much vitriolic partisan debate, and the College Board’s decision to try to build a curriculum covering one of the most charged subjects in the country — the history of race in America — may have all but guaranteed controversy. If anything, the arguments over the curriculum underscore the fact that the United States is a country that cannot agree on its own story, especially the complex history of Black Americans.
The pushback began in January, when Governor DeSantis of Florida, a Republican who is expected to run for president, announced that he would ban the curriculum, citing the draft version. State education officials said it was not historically accurate and violated state law that regulates how race-related issues are taught in public schools.
The attack on the A.P. course turned out to be the prelude to a much larger agenda. On Tuesday, Mr. DeSantis unveiled a proposal to overhaul higher education that would eliminate what he called “ideological conformity” by, among other things, mandating courses in Western civilization.
In another red flag to the College Board, there was the possibility of other opposition: more than two dozen states have adopted some sort of measure against critical race theory, according to a tracking project by the University of California, Los Angeles, law school.
David Coleman, the head of the College Board, said in an interview that the changes were all made for pedagogical reasons, not to bow to political pressure. “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” he said. The changes, he said, came from “the input of professors” and “longstanding A.P. principles.”
Moreover, College Board officials said Wednesday that they had a time-stamped document showing that the final changes to the curriculum were made in December, before the Florida Department of Education sent its letter informing the College Board that it would not allow the course to be taught.
After the curriculum was released Wednesday, Bryan Griffin, the press secretary for Mr. DeSantis, said the state education department was reviewing it for “corrections and compliance with Florida law.” Florida already requires the teaching of African American history.
In light of the conservative criticism, the College Board seemed to opt out of the politics. The revised 234-page curriculum framework ranges widely through content on Africa, slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights movement. And there is content on redlining, discrimination and Afrofuturism, as well as stories of individual achievement and heroism
But the study of contemporary topics — including Black Lives Matter, incarceration, queer life and the debate over reparations — is downgraded. The subjects are no longer part of the exam, and are simply offered on a list of options for a required research project.
And even that list, in a nod to local laws, “can be refined by local states and districts.”
The expunged writers and scholars include Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia, which touts her work as “foundational in critical race theory”; Roderick Ferguson, a Yale professor who has written about queer social movements; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author who has made the case for reparations for slavery. Gone, too, is bell hooks, the writer who shaped discussions about race, feminism and class.
There are hints that the College Board is embedding some of the disputed material, without being explicit about it. “Intersectionality” — a term that Florida says is foundational to critical race theory — is cited eight times in the draft curriculum, but only once in the new version, as an optional topic for a project.
But the concept, which refers to the way different forms of discrimination work together, seems to sneak into required course content, under the heading of essential knowledge. The writers Gwendolyn Brooks and Mari Evans, the curriculum says, “explore the lived experience of Black women and men and show how their race, gender and social class can affect how they are perceived, their roles and their economic opportunities.”