Repairs. Black lives matter. Queer studies.
These are just a few of the concepts the College Board included in a pilot of its Advanced Placement African American Studies course, but don’t appear in the final course materials, released Wednesday. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican with presidential ambitions, had previously announced that he would ban the curriculum, based on a draft.
The course covers a dizzying array of topics, from early West African empires to the transatlantic slave trade, the Great Migration, and Afrofuturism. But a comparison of a February 2022 draft of the framework with the final version shows that many of the revisions concern the latest and most contemporary of the course’s four units, titled “Movements and Debates.”
Sign up for the New York Times The Morning newsletter
Trevor Packer, who leads the Advanced Placement program for the College Board, said the revisions weren’t made because of political pressure, but after getting feedback from teachers and college professors. They were concerned that the pilot course was too thoughtful for contemporary theorists, he said, and not focused enough on foundational history, such as the ancient Nubian civilization.
Here are some of the changes, plus a review of how the new course differs from standard treatments of black history in American high schools.
The February 2022 draft highlighted a number of academic concepts that have been targeted by conservative activists. These include intersectionality, the idea pioneered by prominent legal scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw that race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identities overlap and shape individuals’ experiences of the world; feminism, a movement centered around recognizing the black, female experience; and queer studies.
Many of these terms have been removed.
In the current version, “intersectionality” is mentioned only once, as an example of an optional final project argument. The College Board is stressing the importance of these projects, which are expected to take up three class weeks and will count towards 20 percent of a student’s final AP score.
In a written statement, the College Board said that given the structure of the course, teachers and students would have the freedom to make the classroom their own.
“Any scholar in the field of African-American studies is appropriate for study in this course: no thought is too bold, no idea too controversial,” he said. “We would regret it if a state regulated or barred students from such projects or any secondary source material of their individual and academically free choice.”
However, Crenshaw’s name does not appear in the final painting. She is also a key thinker in the field of critical race theory, which posits that racism is embedded in the structure of the American legal system. While CRT is rarely taught explicitly outside universities, the term itself has become a fixation for many conservatives, who object to K-12 schools that emphasize racism and other forms of discrimination.
Neither version of the AP’s African-American Studies curriculum mentioned critical race theory.
Bringing college-level concepts into high school can prove politically risky even in progressive settings. When the state of California released a draft ethnic studies curriculum in 2019 that focused primarily on the four groups considered part of university ethnic studies departments — African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Native Americans — there was outrage from some organizations. representing American Jews, Hindus, and other minority groups. The state has chosen to review the document.
But Advanced Placement differs from other high school programs in that it is explicitly designed to expose students to college-level concepts.
Women and feminism
A unit on “The Black Feminist Movement and Womanism,” which previously highlighted intersectionality, was retitled “Black Women and Movements in the 20th Century.” While the term “intersectionality” is now eschewed, a similar concept remains under the heading “Overlapping Dimensions of Black Life.” The new framework discusses Gwendolyn Brooks and Mari Evans as writers whose work has explored gender and class alongside race. And the Combahee River Collective, a key second-wave black feminist group, remains in the picture.
However, groundbreaking black women writers and leftist activists such as Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Alice Walker, who had been included in the 2022 draft, have since been dropped.
Packer of the College Board noted that the work of less controversial African-American studies scholars, such as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Henry Louis Gates Jr., had also been excluded from the final picture, due to the decision to move the course from prescribing current secondary sources.
Black Lives Matter and criminal justice
An entire unit on “the origins, mission and global influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Movement for Black Lives” was dropped from the 2022 framework. The term Black Lives Matter does not appear in the current version of the curriculum.
Last year’s draft also included a unit on “incarceration and abolition,” which was heavily influenced by the work of Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow.” Alexander is a writer and civil rights activist known for her argument that modern-day mass incarceration is, in some respects, an extension of the systems of control established under slavery and segregation.
Alexander and his ideas, which are also divisive among some leftist scholars, have been removed from the final version of the course. The revised framework suggests ‘crime, criminal justice and incarceration’ as optional project topics.
“Black Queer Studies” was the focus of the 2022 draft and mentioned three prominent scholars: Cathy Cohen, a University of Chicago political scientist and expert on race, gender, and sexuality; Roderick Ferguson, a professor at Yale University who has written on gay rights through the lens of race and class; and E. Patrick Johnson, founder and director of the Black Arts Initiative at Northwestern University.
The term “queer studies” and those individual names have been deleted from the current version of the curriculum. The new painting makes a passing reference to mid-century civil rights leader Bayard Rustin who faces discrimination because he is gay. He briefly discusses black lesbians feeling out of place in both the civil rights and women’s movements, which were led by black male and white female figures.
Arguments for reparations for slavery were highlighted in last year’s draft. He cited HR 40, a Congressional bill to study reparations, and the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist and author who in 2014 published “The Case for Reparations,” a groundbreaking essay in The Atlantic. That piece focused on the living legacy of sharecropping, redlining, and other forms of economic discrimination against black Americans.
But the term “repairs” appears only once in the final version of the curriculum, as an example of an optional project topic. Coates’ name does not appear.
The AP course compared to current K-12 curriculums
The program also represents, in many ways, a leap forward from the current state of black history in the K-12 classroom. Many states do not require schools to teach redlining or discrimination against African American veterans in the administration of federal benefits through the GI Bill, both emphasized in the AP course. Few standard high school history textbooks go into detail about thinkers like Marcus Garvey, whom the College Board highlights in a unit on black internationalism.
The College Board also draws attention to black resistance to slavery and discrimination, including a new section on black women’s tactics to combat rape and sexual exploitation in slavery. Critics of the American curriculum have long complained that African-American history is taught primarily as a series of tragedy and victimization, with stories of Black courage, organization, and strength eluded.
Examples of black success are often limited to civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Harlem Renaissance figures like Langston Hughes. The AP program, by contrast, highlights figures like musician and actress Janelle Monáe, chief heart surgeon Daniel Hale Williams, and Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped lead Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine development.
© 2023 The New York Times Society