Educators and Students Push Back Against Changes to AP Course in African American Studies

Zora Thomas Data News Weekly Contributor

The College Board announced on Feb. 1st new revisions to the Advanced Placement course for high school students in African American studies. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education’s rejection of the course on Jan. 19th. Educators and students push back against changes to AP course in African American Studies resulted in the College Board’s decision to remove aspects of the curriculum. The Board stripped references to Black feminists, LGBTQ scholars, and the Black Lives Matter movement facing criticism from conservative opponents of critical race studies.

“He’s [DeSantis] sectioning out our history,” said Dr. Sharlene Sinegal-DeCuir, the Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Xavier University of Louisiana. “Which means to me, he is trying to let us know in some uncertain terms, that our history is irrelevant. And if our history is irrelevant, our place in America is irrelevant. That’s how I see it,” Sinegal-DeCuir added.

Sinegal-DeCuir was selected to help create the coursework for the AP African American Studies course. The College Board specifically sought out and invited about 100 educators and scholars such as Xavier’s Sinegal-DeCuir, who are well versed in African American and Africana Studies to develop the high school curriculum.

The College Board offers classes such as AP United States History, AP World History: Modern and AP European History. Students are not required to take AP courses; however, many do test out the course via the placement test to qualify for college credit. The African American studies course is currently in a testing phase at 60 schools across the country, according to the board, and is yet to be added to the history and social studies section of the College Board website. DeCuir said she was disappointed with the news and emailed a College Board executive director asking if they would consider pulling all AP courses from Florida.

“If they’re not going to teach AP African American Studies in the state of Florida, they shouldn’t have access to any of the other AP courses,” Sinegal-DeCuir stated. “So, College Board, they wrote me back and they said, ‘We’re taking this into consideration.’ A few days later, I see the news that they have completely taken out a lot of aspects of the introduction level AP studies coursework that we created collectively, as a group of 100 Black scholars, or more,” she added.
Sinegal-DeCuir further explained that critical race theory is not being discussed correctly due to a general lack of understanding of the topic. This misunderstanding leads to the frustrations of educators like herself dealing with governmental restrictions like DeSantis, who exert political pressure to censor and remove information.

“I think the politicians are getting it wrong, because they’re not understanding what critical race [theory] is and what it means. It is not divisive,” said Sinegal-DeCuir. “What it is, is saying that prejudice and bias, all of those things lead into the legal system, right. And it affects the legal system and politics that we now currently have the United States. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just stating the facts.”

During 2020, the United States as well as the world was at a standstill in the midst of the protests surrounding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmed Arbery. The country was faced with political unrest and much of the country was in a state of learning about Black history and actively working towards anti-racism. But since then, there has been a backlash, particularly from conservatives criticizing the rise in anti-racism efforts as not suited for K-12 education.
Students have spoken out against efforts to resist anti-racist teachings and question how sincere early efforts were to encourage a full teaching of the Black experience.

“Are teachers supposed to ignore students who may form a question about the aforementioned “unacceptable” Black history, since it may lead to a discussion “pushing a liberal agenda?” said Nyla Williams, a Xavier student. “As a history major at an HBCU, I am highly disappointed by College Board’s revisions, though I am not surprised,” she said.

Students also indicated they wished they had such a course while in high school.

“I did take, what was it, the AP U.S. History and AP Government. But that definitely had a one-sided view to it,” said Katherine Jones, a Xavier-student who is a United Negro College Fund Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and a History student. “And going into a predominantly White school for like AP African American Studies class, would kind of been a safe haven, in my high school for me to flourish with Black thoughts and Black theories and seeing multiple sites and multiple intersectionality’s of Black individuals,” she added.

Baton Rouge Magnet High School is one of the 60 schools in the country testing the revised AP course on African Americans studies. Students told New Orleans-based WWL-TV that they were hoping to learn more from the course on Black history and its impact on the United States. Teachers in the state continue to advocate for the course to remain a full exploration of the Black experience.

“As an HBCU grad, this only bolsters my belief that Black students need to have an educational experience in an environment that recognizes the challenges that we face,” said Dr. Aeneid Williams, a fifth-grade mathematics teacher at Hosanna Christian Academy, a predominately Black school, K-8 in Baton Rouge, LA. and a former Xavier student class of 1990. “We are not afforded the opportunity to learn our history in general history classes. Now the AP class that supposedly would have afforded our young students the chance to delve more into the myriad pictures of Black history has been stripped down to being just another version of the White man’s history,” she added.

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