By Cheyanne Memphrey and Sharon Lurye
High school senior Kahlila Bandele is used to courses that don’t address the African American experience. Then there’s her 9 a.m. class. This week, it spanned topics from Afro-Caribbean migration to jazz.
The discussion in her Advanced Placement course on African American studies touched on figures from Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X to Jimi Hendrix and Rihanna. In her AP European History course, she said, “we’re not discussing Black people at all” — even though they were colonized by Europeans.
Her school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is one of 60 schools around the country testing the new course, which has gained national attention since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to ban it in his state. The rejection has stirred new political debate over how schools teach about race.
The official curriculum for the course, released Wednesday by the College Board, downplays some components that had drawn criticism from DeSantis and other conservatives. Topics including Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations and queer life are not part of the exam. Instead, they are included only on a sample list states and school systems can choose from for student projects.
The College Board, which oversees AP exams, said revisions to the course were substantially complete before DeSantis shared his objections.
“The fact of the matter is that this landmark course has been shaped over years by the most eminent scholars in the field, not political influence,” the organization said in a written statement.
The revised curriculum will guide the course’s expansion to hundreds of additional high schools in the next academic year. College Board officials said developers consulted with professors from more than 200 colleges, including several historically Black institutions, and took input from teachers piloting the class.
The students at Baton Rouge Magnet High School were aware of the political controversy over the course. But the class on Monday was filled with discussion of the Négritude and Negrismo movements that celebrated Black culture and a painting by the Afro-Asian-Latino artist Wifredo Lam.
Afterward, Bandele, 18, said she doesn’t understand arguments that the course would indoctrinate children.
“I don’t feel particularly indoctrinated,” she said.
DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, said he was blocking the course in Florida because it pushed a political agenda.
“In the state of Florida, our education standards not only don’t prevent, but they require teaching Black history, all the important things. That’s part of our core curriculum,” DeSantis said at a news conference last week. “We want education and not indoctrination.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis on Wednesday said the state education department is reviewing the revised curriculum for compliance with Florida law.
Despite the College Board's assurances otherwise, the notion that the course changed because of political controversy generated fresh outrage Wednesday. “To wake up on the first day of Black History Month to news of white men in positions of privilege horse trading essential and inextricably linked parts of Black History, which is American history, is infuriating,” said David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.
The course has been popular among students in schools where it has been introduced. In Baton Rouge, so many students were interested that Emmitt Glynn is teaching it to two classes, instead of just the one he was originally planning.
Earlier this week, his students read selections of “The Wretched of the Earth” by Frantz Fanon, which deals with the violence inherent in colonial societies. In a lively discussion, students connected the text to what they had learned about the conflict between colonizers and Native Americans, to the war in Ukraine and to police violence in Memphis, Tennessee.
“We’ve been covering the gamut from the shores of Africa to where we are now in the 1930s, and we will continue on through history,” Glynn said. He said he was proud to see the connections his students were making between the past and now.
For Malina Ouyang, 17, taking the class helped fill gaps in what she has been taught. “Taking this class," she said, "I realized how much is not said in other classes.”
Matthew Evans, 16, said the class has educated him on a multitude of perspectives on Black history. He said the political controversy is just “a distraction.”
“Any time you want to try to silence something, you will only make someone want to learn about it even more,” he said.
The College Board offers AP courses across the academic spectrum, including math, science, social studies, foreign languages and fine arts. The courses are optional. Taught at a college level, students who score high enough on the final exam usually earn course credit at their university.
In Malcolm Reed's classroom at St. Amant High School in Louisiana, where he teaches the AP class, he tries to be mindful of how the material and discussions can affect students.
“I give them the information and I've seen light bulbs go off. I ask them, ‘How does it affect you? How do you feel about learning this?’ ” he said. “It's also new for me, and I'm just taking it in stride. We're not just learning history, but we're making history.”
Mumphrey reported from Phoenix. AP journalist Stephen Smith contributed to this report.
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