Regulating the Black Experience

Taelor Thornton

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2024

Advanced Placement (AP) Music History, AP World History, AP Art History, AP European History, and now AP African American History. The College Board (the Board) offers 39 AP classes on many different subjects, and has recently added an African American history course. The Board piloted this course at 60 high schools throughout the country, but hit a roadblock in Florida. The Florida Department of Education (FDOE) banned it from being offered in the state due to them believing it is not historically accurate and would violate state law. However, many scholars and educators worry that this is Republican lawmakers trying to block schools from teaching topics that don’t align with their political ideas. This ban should be rethought. African American history is an important topic for students to learn, and they should also have the option to receive college credit as any other AP classes. 

FDOE banned the AP African American course

The AP African American History course is intended to teach students about the social injustices experience by Black Americans throughout US history and have them understand the cultural influences on different past issues and movements in Black American culture. The College Board did a pilot program and implemented the course at 60 schools. The course explores key historic events and social movements that shaped the Black experience, the diversity of African societies before slavery, and their contributions to literature and art. 

The FDOE banned the course from being offered in the state, stating that it would violate state law, the Stop WOKE Act and is not historically accurate. In April 2022, Florida Governor signed the Stop WOKE Act that restricted race discussions in Florida public schools and universities. This ban includes the teaching that a person is “inherently racist, sexist” or that other people are privileged or oppressed because of their race. However, FDOE have approved other types of AP history courses in the past, such as European and World History, which are courses “centered around the white population.” 

Since then, the Board has gone back and revised the initial framework. Much of the material covering contemporary topics like the Black Lives Matter movement and Black/queer movements was in question and part of FDOE’s concerns. This material in the new framework was diminished into optional research project topics. A group of African American studies educators spoke out defending the AP’s original coursework in an open letter. 

The Board should not have done this to please the FDOE or Republican lawmakers. This showed that the Board is letting FDOE determine the proper way to examine the Black experience. There is no information to suggest FDOE is, or has ever claimed to be, an expert on any other subject matters being considered for AP course adoption. Allowing this to happen will only encourage more of the policing of the Black experience to occur.   

Even with the changes in the framework, it doesn’t seem like Florida will allow this class in the educational system. Now, the governor of Florida announced plans to block state colleges from having programs on diversity, equity and inclusion, and critical race theory. This censorship of the Black experience is going to further harm students. 

The ban needs to be removed

Every child deserves to receive a well-rounded and inclusive education where every student sees themselves and others, and can develop a deep understanding of the complexity of our full American story. This ban denies the students this opportunity and prevents them from learning about African American history and culture with the potential to receive college credit.  

Some states have joined in and passed laws to ban critical race theory instruction in all public schools. The Idaho legislature found that critical race theory “exacerbates and inflames divisions on the basis of sex, race, . . . or other criteria in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.” All these bans are doing is hurting the students from learning and receiving the credit they deserve.  

Other states have recognized that students have this right and have implemented different diversity courses. In 2021, California became the first state to make ethnic studies a requirement for high school students. The California Department of Education developed a framework to help students understand the past and present struggles of marginalized groups in America.

When students are taught the history of different groups, they are able to get exposed to more diverse coursework and see themselves reflected in their textbooks. Silence on diverse topics like this one allow for the stereotypes, biases, and racism to be reinforced, which then could lead to more bullying.  But, teaching these topics can help students navigate and understand racial oppression. Then, they could potentially learn from the past and stop racial oppressions. 

It’s a shame that the FDOE are depriving Florida citizens of receiving a rounded and inclusive education.