AP African American Studies: A Class Amidst Controversy
By: Julian Hartland
What if I told you AP African American Studies could be found in our "Program of Studies" as early as 2024? In the past year, CollegeBoard has begun to pilot a new course teaching the black experience in America throughout history in 60 schools across the country. The course features exciting topics ranging from the African Diaspora to the Black Power movement. Unlike other AP courses at Conard, AP African American Studies encourages interdisciplinary study that includes studies of art, literature, and music influenced by Black individuals throughout history. Like any other AP course, there will be a culminating AP exam. However, instead of just testing students with standard multiple-choice and free-response questions, students also have the opportunity to engage in an independent study topic of their choice on any given topic in the realm of the Black American experience.
Some may have reservations if the course will truly address the depths of black history; however, AP News reported that developers consulted over 200 professors from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as well as the teachers piloting the course. Robert J. Patterson, a professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University and one of the professors consulted for the course, "helps people to understand how the historical and contemporary experiences of Black people... are informed by larger political, social, and cultural forces that did not end when slavery ended." The distinction that this course teaches post-slavery black history is incredibly important to note.
Considering that the black experience is primarily left out of the standard American education, this course could set a precedent for further representation of minority groups in schools. At Conard, the black population is sparsely represented. Modern World History by its name should give the opportunity to highlight black history, but the course strictly covers the white European perspective. Additionally, both AP European History and AP U.S. History give minimal to no attention to the influence of black people. This sentiment is shared by Kahlila Bandele, a high school senior at Baton Rouge Magnet High School who found that her AP European History course was "not discussing black people at all," despite black people being colonized during that period. However, one junior at Conard taking AP U.S. History finds that Mr. O’Connor’s APUSH class "...covers it enough to the extent that I understand and even sympathize with the incarceration and injustice they have faced for hundreds of years." Furthermore, it seems that teachers can alter a curriculum that primarily centers the white perspective to include black and other marginalized viewpoints.
While Conard does have a United States African American Experience history class, AP African American Studies provides the opportunity for students to academically challenge themselves through interdisciplinary study. For example, a survey of 18 students in a USAAE class at Conard revealed that a majority (61.1%) would have enrolled in AP African American Studies to fulfill their U.S. History credit. In turn, this demonstrates that students will likely flock to the course to engage in more challenging curriculum.
Recent protesting against adjustment in history courses
Despite the notable desire for AP African American Studies at Conard, according to a U.S. News article, Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, has criticized the course’s curriculum, calling it "indoctrination." Essentially, he is referring to "controversial" topics such as Black Lives Matter, the Black queer experience, Black feminism, and intersectionality. In particular, one Washington Post article noted that in the original proposal framework, Kimberle Crenshaw, the founder of critical race theory and leading scholar on intersectionality, was mentioned five times. However, following DeSantis’s critiques, her name was not to be found in the published version. With these circumstances, one 11th grade student at Conard has his reservations about this course. He believes that we "...cannot simply ignore the many social movements and new philosophies that developed over the last 50 years." Likewise, Joshua Zeitz of Politico finds that the course is watered down as students won’t encounter works of writers such as Zora Neale Hurston from the Harlem Renaissance. These new circumstances beg the question: Will students be willing to take the course despite being aware they may not be exposed to black history in its entirety? Even with this fact, Conard students "would definitely want to take it," according to one student. Another, having taken Mr. Bassi’s USAAE class, believes that the class "would be a really good addition to the curriculum". Despite being a white teacher teaching black history, Mr. Bassi views himself as a "facilitator... to lead them in a dialogue around the thinking and actions of those individuals." This mindset is critical for any teacher who may step up and spearhead the implementation of such a course, making sure their own views and history play no role in what is taught. Amidst the political controversy fueled by Ron DeSantis, will Conard teach Black history to the fullest? Or will we remain complicit in teaching an incomplete history?
Sources and Image Citations:
- Pilot: AP African American Studies – AP Central | College Board
- What's in the New AP African American Studies Course? | K-12 Schools | U.S. News (usnews.com)
- College Board revises its A.P. curriculum for African American studies after criticism from conservatives | AP News
- Did politics cut 'systemic' from AP African American studies plan? - Washington Post
- What’s Really in the AP African-American Studies Class DeSantis Rejected? - POLITICO
(1) Protestors rally against Gov. DeSantis administration’s rejection of AP African American Studies course (wcjb.com)