Summary: To appease conservative backlash, College Board removes content from new Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum – Editors
After a decade of work by educators throughout the US, an Advanced Placement (AP) course in African American studies is being piloted in a few high schools nationwide, with its reach scheduled to extend in the upcoming year. However, the course is facing an ongoing onslaught of criticism from conservative politicians. In response to criticism from Florida officials, especially governor Ron DeSantis, one of the most anticipated GOP presidential candidates for the 2024 election, The College Board (the nonprofit organization that creates and controls AP programs) has significantly edited out aspects of the program that are generally considered anywhere from center-liberal to left. Some topics and figures removed from the curriculum include: intersectionality, Critical Race Theory (CRT), Womanism and feminism, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Frantz Fanon, Robin D.G. Kelley, Black Lives Matter/The Movement for Black Lives, abolition, Black Queer Studies, and reparations. Less politically controversial figures, including Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Henry Louis Gates Jr. have also been removed from the curriculum due to “the decision to move…. away from prescribing present-day secondary sources”[i].
With his criticisms, DeSantis has effectively brought the AP course into the larger dialogue of “ideological warfare” and, in doing so, has furthered the idea that education in the US (especially history) is neutral instead of a carefully manicured collection of thought that downplays, omits, or recuperates the contributions of the oppressed. The fact that AP African American studies, a course that could partially correct for the deep-seated bias in US education (if only for the Advanced Placement students that can take it), has been gutted to appease conservative concerns further buries Black struggle and Black radical traditions by effectively canonizing only the parts of Black life that are least contentious to a system based on White supremacy. The shift in this curriculum is part of the broader ongoing fight against Critical Race Theory in the US. According to CRT Forward, an initiative that tracks anti-CRT measures, there have been 521 anti-CRT “bills, resolutions, executive orders, opinion letters, statements, and other measures” issued across 183 “local, state, and federal government entities across the United States”[ii]. Along with the fight against CRT, backlash against the AP curriculum also coincides with growing efforts by conservative/alt-right figures to shut down leftist and critical perspectives at the university level (e.g. DeSantis’ proposals to combat what he perceives as “ideological conformity” at universities in Florida).[iii]
It is worth noting that although intersectionality has been one of the most impactful modern contributions to social analysis, DeSantis targets this along with other subjects that he (due to his blindness to intersectional struggle) cannot see as relevant to African American studies, such as Black Queer studies[iv]. Educators play such a vital role in preparing the next generation for the future and, thus, should see these interlocking systems of oppression and give their students the tools they need to understand, navigate, and change the world. This can only be done by giving due attention to the voices, histories, and legacies of the oppressed—attention that this advised curriculum is far less suited to provide than its original version.
[i] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2023/02/01/us/college-board-advanced-placement-african-american-studies.amp.html; The items listed were removed from the main curriculum, but many are still listed briefly as optional project topics and/or supplemental resources. “Black conservatism” was also added to the list of optional topics.