Gov. Ron Desantis rejects African American Advanced Placement (AP) courses pressuring the College Board to strip down curriculum. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) claims the course “significantly lacks educational value.” Changes in the Feb. 1st rollout discarded crucial nuances in African American studies.

According to the New York Times, they “purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism.” In the formal curriculum, they left out the Black Lives Matter movement and other “politically fraught topics.”

Gov. Desantis has previously passed legislation limiting public conversation around progressive racial concepts. Banning Critical Race Theory (CRT), enacting the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act (Stop W.O.K.E Act), and prohibiting African American AP courses from public high schools in Florida are only a few examples that could lead to dangerous control over education.

Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell describes this ban as discriminatory and berates its legitimacy for going against Florida law. He recalls, “Almost 30 years ago, Florida lawmakers passed a law that requires public school students to be taught the history of African Americans, including slavery, abolition, and the contributions of Blacks to society.”

He further argues “banning this advanced placement course that incorporates these very issues not only whitewashes history but tramples a lauded state law that guided our state into the 21st century… our governor’s racial bias on full display.”

Furthermore, this ban by Gov. Desantis was only the beginning of his political agenda aimed towards morphing higher education by eliminating what he called “ideological conformity.” The passage of his proposed Individual Freedoms bill ensures the absence of white guilt, cementing a notion of misdirected oppression. Desantis declares, “No one should be instructed to feel as if they are not equal or shamed because of their race…In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces. There is
no place for indoctrination or discrimination in Florida.”

Ironically, the word indoctrinate, as defined by Britannica Dictionary means “to teach (someone) to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs.”

The Stop W.O.K.E Act, was signed into law last year. The law uses a play on words with the slang African American Vernacular English (AAVE) term ‘woke.’ Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes the term as “aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” The repressive bill design is perceived as a mockery of the ‘woke’ title, as it excludes diversity and inclusion discussions in school or the workplace.

Sen. Bobby Powell explains in a press release that it “essentially prohibits instruction on race relations or diversity that imply a person’s status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.”

The Stop W.O.K.E Act is used interchangeably with the Individual Freedoms Act (IFA) to reaffirm conservative beliefs concerning the erasure of unwanted social conversations discussing privilege and oppression while attempting to dilute the language that describes obstacles tied to the Black community.

Gov. Desantis’ approach to eradicating white guilt perpetuates white fragility. President of the Florida Education Association, Fedrick Ingram, says “History sometimes involves the good, the bad, and the ugly of what has happened. But we deserve honest history.”

Following the controversy, the head of the College Board, David Coleman, announced, “At the College Board, we can’t look at statements of political leaders,” arguing that the changes came from “the input of professors” and “long-standing A.P. principles.”

Several scholars including a Yale Professor of American History, David Blight, strongly disagreed with stripping down the program. When asked why he withdrew a requested endorsement from the College Board, Dr. Blight replied, “I withdrew it because I want to know when and how they made these decisions to excise these people” saying this was “an attack on their academic freedom.”

Other organizations and professors mirrored these concerns. Senior manager at PEN America (a non-profit org. dedicated to defending the freedom of expression and human rights) Jeremy C. Young raised concerns that it “risked sending the message that political threats against the teaching of particular types of content can succeed in silencing that content.”

After deliberation, on Feb.11, 2023, the College Board published a statement admitting that they “made mistakes in the rollout” and “deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies “lacks educational value.”

They explain material concerning mass incarceration, Black Lives Matter and reparations, were not taken out and instead became optional. “Our lack of clarity allowed the narrative to arise that political forces had “downgraded” the role of these contemporary movements and debates in the AP class.”

In addition, the College Board remarks they have not been in correspondence with the FDOE. Changes to the curriculum were designed months in advance without FDOE input. They believe this is a PR stunt to exploit them for their “political agenda.”

The College Board further explained that the reduction and removal of buzzwords, like intersectionality and systemically marginalized, were broken down and made more palatable due to the politicization, misrepresentation, and misunderstanding of these words. They reiterate, “Florida is attempting to claim a political victory by taking credit retroactively for changes we ourselves made but that they never suggested to us.”

In a most recent letter by the FDOE, they disparage African American studies by labeling them as “historically fictional.” This rhetoric delegitimizes the painful history of African Americans. Because of this, “The College Board condemns this uninformed caricature of African American Studies and the harm it does to scholars and students.”

While the message appeared sincere, many scholars were displeased by the new framework and not completely convinced it was uninfluenced by Gov. Desantis.

Feb. 15, 2023 African American Studies Faculty in higher education created a petition signed by over one thousand professors from universities across the United States. The petition expresses discontent with the excised and censored content and provides four measures of suggested action to restore integrity.

The African American Studies Faculty in Higher Education wrote, “it is evident from the same statement that the Board’s initial comments regarding private exchanges between the CB and FDOE were misleading and incomplete.” They further explained that “this allowed FDOE and the DeSantis administration to claim a victory in censoring the course.” Instead of reorganizing the curriculum to enhance its efficiency or make it more mainstream, they argue, “It has been scrubbed of much of its critical and contemporary content.”

The African American Studies Faculty in Higher Education advises making a “clear stand against so-called “anti woke” legislation.” Altering African American history curriculum based on political criticism is destructive and can lead to detrimental consequences, such as authoritarian control over education and the erasure of critical thinking through restricted education.

Jeremy C. Young states that College Board’s political influence “risked sending the message that political threats against the teaching of particular types of content can succeed in silencing that content.”

Warning that allowing political criticism to alter education in
African-American history could be a segue to authoritarian education.

Originally Published 3/9/23