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Why Did Florida Reject a New Proposed 'AP African-American Studies' Curriculum?

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Because Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans who run the state are racists will be the stupid, knee-jerk reply in some quarters.  Indeed, this whole controversy seems like something of a set-up for leftists to attempt ideological indoctrination under the guise of education, daring anyone who might object to run the risk of high-decibel racial demagoguery in return.  DeSantis, however, is plainly unafraid of a fight.  He'll argue that he didn't pick this one, but he'll wage it nonetheless.  Here's some background on the Advanced Placement program in African-American studies being rolled out on a limited basis, per the New York Times last summer:


The College Board is jumping into the fray over how to teach the history of race in the United States with a new Advanced Placement course and exam on African American studies that will be tried out in about 60 high schools this fall. The course is multidisciplinary, addressing not just history but civil rights, politics, literature, the arts, even geography. If the pilot program pans out, it will be the first course in African American studies for high school students that is considered rigorous enough to allow students to receive credit and advanced placement at many colleges across the country...The College Board declined to release a sample syllabus or other content for the course, or to name the 60 schools or say what states they were located in...If all goes well, the full A.P. course will be available to all high schools that want it in the 2024-25 school year.

The Times extensively quotes Dr. Henry Louis Gates -- whose name may be familiar to those who closely follow American politics because of this Obama-era 'Beer Summit' incident -- who said he was hopeful the proposed curriculum would delve into a host of left-wing ideas, at least from analytically:

With the caveat that the course is still in development, and that he only plays an advisory role in determining its content, Dr. Gates said that he was “sincerely hoping” that the course would not ignore teaching about controversial subjects, like critical race theory or the 1619 Project. The 1619 Project, developed by The New York Times, sought to reframe the country’s history by putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the national narrative. Dr. Gates said that rather than being part of the theoretical framework of the course itself, those topics could be part of a unit “teaching different theories of the African American experience.” There could, for example, “be a course on Marxist approaches to race,” Dr. Gates said, adding, “and most certainly I would imagine something on critical race theory and maybe something on the 1619 Project.” He said: “This hypothetical unit would discuss the controversies over different interpretive frameworks used to analyze the history of race in America. I am certainly not advocating employing those theories as interpretive frameworks for the course itself. That’s a big difference.”


The '1619 Project,' which attempts to rewrite American history by pegging the nation's supposed 'true' founding long before 1776, has been widely pilloried by historians, due to myriad falsehoods.  In any case, the AP pilot program is now underway, and Florida has shot it down, saying that it violates state law.  Writing at National Review, Stanley Kurtz fills in some details:

The College Board — the group that runs the SAT test and the Advanced Placement (AP) program — has launched a pilot version of an AP African-American Studies (APAAS) course, to great fanfare in the mainstream press. Although the APAAS pilot has received plenty of publicity, the College Board has clothed the course in secrecy. The curriculum has not been publicly released, nor have the names of the approximately 60 schools at which the pilot is being tested...On January 12, however, the administration of Florida governor Ron DeSantis wrote a letter to the College Board informing it that Florida was rejecting its request for state approval of APAAS. The letter, from the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Articulation, goes on to state that, “as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” At the same time, the letter notes that “in the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion.” In short, DeSantis has decided that APAAS does in fact violate Florida’s Stop WOKE Act by attempting to persuade students of at least some tenets of CRT.


That's a hard 'no' from the DeSantis administration, while holding open the possibility of approval if alterations are made -- which is exactly what happened in the 'nixed textbooks' controversy last year.  Is this decision justified?  In some ways it's hard to tell because the College Board has shrouded the program in notable secrecy, as Kurtz notes.  He calls DeSantis' decision "bold and unprecedented," and also "entirely justified."  Why?  Unlike nearly everyone else, Kurtz has obtained a copy of the curriculum.  Here's what he's found:

Although the College Board has pointedly declined to release the APAAS curriculum, I obtained a copy and wrote about it in September. There I argued that APAAS proselytizes for a socialist transformation of the United States, that it directly runs afoul of new state laws barring CRT, and that to approve APAAS would be to gut those laws...Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, for example, bars any K–12 attempt to promote the idea that color blindness is racist. Yet most of the readings in the final quarter of APAAS (Unit 4: Movements and Debates) reject color blindness. One of the topics in that unit is explicitly devoted to “color blindness.” There, APAAS suggests reading CRT advocate Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, best known for his theory of “color-blind racism.” Overall, the readings in the final quarter of APAAS — the quarter chiefly devoted to ideological controversies rather than to history per se — are extraordinarily one-sided. They promote leftist radicalism, with virtually no readings providing even a classically liberal point of view, much less some form of conservatism...

Then there’s APAAS’s promotion of socialism. A state doesn’t need a preexisting law to decide that a course filled with advocacy for socialist radicalism is inappropriate. In my earlier exploration of APAAS’s curriculum, I described the neo-Marxist thrust of the course. This is evident enough from the readings. On top of that, however, we know that Joshua M. Myers, the member of the APAAS curriculum-writing team whose expertise covers the final quarter of the course, is an acolyte of Cedric Robinson, author of Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Myers’s writings on African-American studies explicitly call for the field to reject traditional concepts of disciplinary neutrality and adopt openly anti-capitalist radical advocacy instead.


Kurtz's September article about the APAAS course materials is available here.  In his new piece, Kurtz denounces the College Board's efforts to hide its new product from public view while actively asking states to approve it for use: "The College Board’s decision to keep the APAAS curriculum secret is indefensible. At least during the 2014 controversy over AP U.S. history, troubling though it was, the curriculum was public. This, of course, is why the College Board is resorting to secrecy now. It is trying to get states to approve APAAS for high school and college credit before there’s even a chance of informed public debate," he writes. "For the College Board to keep the APAAS curriculum secret while simultaneously asking states to approve the course for high school and college credit is indefensible. This secrecy validates long-standing concerns about the College Board’s acting as a de facto unelected national school board."  He adds this:

The tactic is nefarious, but politically clever. What governor wants to be attacked for rejecting a course in African-American studies? It takes guts to say no to a course that looks benign on the surface but is in fact filled with CRT and leftist propaganda. DeSantis has got guts.

I'd also underscore the point that this curriculum would be presented to high schoolers, not college or graduate students.  At the very least, public officials and parents should be able to see what would be taught to teenagers on certain charged topics.  The secrecy, plus Kurtz's summary of what he's seen, plus Florida's rejection of the project are three meaningful data points in this debate. I'll leave you with my monologue on a Politico story out this week discussing DeSantis' moves to deal with that the article describes as a "likability issue" ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run:


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