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The Educational Value of AP African American Studies

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

by Nicholas Diaz

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Earlier this month, the DeSantis administration made the decision to ban College Board’s AP African American Studies course from being offered in Florida schools. According to Andrew Atterbury for Politico, the decision follows “a concerted effort by state republicans to restrict how race is taught in local classrooms.”

In a letter to the College Board, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) stated, “as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” This was in reference to Florida’s “Stop WOKE Act” signed by Governor DeSantis in April 2022, which banned certain teachings on race.

Concerns were raised over six main topics within the curriculum published by the Florida Standard. These topics focus on ideas including intersectionality, reparations and Black Lives Matter.

The decision has resulted in criticism from the course’s advocates and even lawsuits. As historian Christopher Tinson told Juliana Kim from NPR, “There's nothing particularly ideological about the course except that we value the experiences of African people in the United States.”

The course is not “pushing an agenda” or promoting “woke indoctrination” as DeSantis has claimed. It is simply teaching about the lived experiences of African Americans throughout US history.

As Tinson stated, “We wanted to give a comprehensive view of the culture, literature, historical development, political movements and social movements.” This teaching of African American history should not be problematic. However, the course has become controversial due to its arrival amidst a culture war over race.

One of the most controversial elements of the curriculum is its alleged teaching of critical race theory (CRT). However, as historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. told Olivia B. Waxman from Time, “AP African American Studies is not CRT… It is a mainstream, rigorously vetted, academic approach to a vibrant field of study.”

As Kim explains, “While the class will explore the issue of inequality, the framework itself is too advanced for high school students.” CRT is a complex and cross-disciplinary theory that an introductory course could not possibly teach in high school.

The closest it gets to teaching CRT is the concept of intersectionality used “to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap,” as Jane Coaston writes for Vox.

The claim that intersectionality “ranks people based on their race, wealth, gender, and sexual orientation” is false. It simply conceptualizes people as affected by several identities, which is important not only because it was developed by Black feminist scholarship but also because it adds nuance to the course itself exemplified in Black Queer Studies which focuses on the sexual and gendered experiences of African Americans.

Overall, the fears of this course are unfounded and, as Illinois Governor Pritzker has stated, DeSantis’ reactions are likely “political grandstanding.” AP African American Studies has significant educational value by providing a comprehensive view of African American history in a manner that promotes academic rigor and nuance.

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