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DeSantis Blocks AP Black Studies Course in Florida

Ron DeSantis at the 2022 Student Action Summit at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida. July, 22, 2022. Gage Skidmore/Flickr.

Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently rejected the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) African American History course for high school students, claiming that it violates the “Stop WOKE Act.”

In a Jan. 12 letter sent by the Florida Department of Education, it was  revealed that DeSantis’ administration blocked the course after reviewing a draft of the course’s framework from February 2022, saying it was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” 

During a press conference, DeSantis called out topics he claimed the course was indoctrinating students with such as “queer theory” and movements to abolish prisons. He said they represented a  “political agenda” and hence were in violation of his law. The Florida Education Commissioner tweeted a layout of the sections from the draft that the administration objected to. 

“We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” Manny Diaz Jr., Commissioner of Education, said in the tweet. 

Material that they targeted were all in unit four of the original draft framework and specifically included the work of scholars such as Kimberlé Crenshaw, Roderick Ferguson, Leslie Kay Jones and bell hooks in relation to topics such as Black queerism, critical race theory, Black feminism and the movement to abolish prisons. 

Since then, the College Board announced an updated framework was going to be released on Feb. 1. The full 234 page layout for the course can be accessed and read in depth on the College Board website. The updated version does not include topics that drew controversy as required material. 

During an appearance on Roland Martin Unfiltered, College Board Senior Vice President, Steve Bumbough, said that the media reports that these topics were removed or that they were influenced by politicians is false and emphasized that the framework was largely completed in December before the letter was sent by Florida Department of Education. 

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“The narrative that is now unfortunately taking hold in the media that we spent a week putting together a 236 page framework at the behest of politicians that have objections, that is simply not true,” Bumbough told Martin. 

Bumbough said that students are given a three-week project to choose whichever topic within the field of African American studies to delve deeper and research, and says that is the space where students can dig deeper into the “contemporary” writers and their works. 

“Students have the liberty to explore topics that may be different from what their teacher prioritizes…the project provides students with the flexibility, space, and time to explore complex topics of their choosing,” the framework reads

Despite claims of indoctrination from DeSantis and those on the right, the layout further states explicitly that “students are not required to subscribe to any particular perspective about contemporary issues,” in the project. 

Howard University associate professors of the Department of Afro American Studies, Dr. Greg Carr and Dr. Joshua Myers, an alumnus, were two of the many scholars who contributed to the development of the AP course. Myers says he does not believe that College Board was unswayed by political pressure and says the course is not engaged in the deep work of Afro American Studies. 

“I think these changes are convenient. They align with the College Board’s mission, which is to make the course saleable. But do they align with the mission of Black studies? I don’t think so,” Myers said.

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“Those who do Black studies know that there is a larger struggle happening. And I’m not sure this course will ever reflect that. The thing is, the pilot version barely did. So I think that changing the topics that might have covered that fight— keyword here is might— and remanding them to an optional project, demonstrates either cowardice (my sense), or ignorance (me offering grace),” he continued.

Carr asserted that the move by DeSantis “was a political stunt by a man who wants to run for president of the United States.”

“This is all an exercise in anti-Black racism. It’s fear mongering for political profit…he is overreaching…I think this is the kind of action that could energize people,” Carr said.

Both Afro American studies students and students from Florida at Howard have spoken out about the decision by DeSantis. Christle Vidor, a senior nursing student from Florida says she was “upset but not surprised” when she heard about this news.

“I was raised in Florida where educators have tokenized and belittled Black students. I was raised in Florida where educators have begun classes by explaining how Black people should not complain about racial injustice…beneath the warm sun and the fragrance of the orange zest, racism lies at the pit of this state,” Vidor said.

“The education that I received in African American studies was liberating–and I am certain that it will be liberating to other Black students,” she said, discussing the value of Black studies. 

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 “It is far easier to want to fight for the betterment of your situation if you know exactly what you are fighting for and the ramifications of your fight. Afro American Studies for me has been an opportunity to truly embrace my Blackness, and I am very grateful that I was able to take these courses at Howard,” Josiah Jacobs, a senior Afro American studies and political science student, said. 

It was recently reported that DeSantis’ larger agenda is aiming to strip down efforts of diversity, equity and inclusion in Florida universities.

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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