In a letter to College Board on January 12, the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Articulation labeled the course as “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly [lacking of] educational value.” Governor DeSantis, who is likely to run for president in 2024, argued in a press conference on January 23 that the course acted as “indoctrination” and was “pushing an agenda” on students.
DeSantis’ claims are not out of character. Throughout the past year, he has made concerted efforts to block the education of certain “difficult” topics in Florida, passing the “Stop Woke Act” last spring which prohibits teaching certain concepts related to race. He also passed the infamous Parental Rights in Education, known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” restricting the education of LGBTQ+ topics in Florida’s public schools.
DeSantis’ critiques were followed by a change in curriculum for this course. Now, the course makes the teaching of “politically fraught” topics like the Black Lives Matter movement optional, and forgoes the inclusion of many Black intellectuals whose work relates to critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism. It has also added the topic of Black Conservatism as a possible research project for students to pursue.
The head of the College Board, David Coleman, said the changes made to the course were not in response to political pressure. He clarified that “at the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” saying that the changes came from “the input of professors” as well as AP principles. Officials from the College Board also said that they had a document time-stamped to prove that the final changes to the course were made in December, before the outpouring of criticism from political leaders.
Aida Sall, a high school senior from New Jersey who is Vice President of her school’s Black Student Union, said that it’s “appalling” to see the changes that have been made to the course, despite the College Board’s insistence that those changes are apolitical.
This consternation comes from Sall’s idea that “a lot of the most important aspects of it” have been made optional or taken out altogether, she said. She rejects the reasoning that it “makes white children uncomfortable to talk about race,” describing this notion as flawed.
“The implication behind this is that white comfortability is more important than teaching about the vast array of contributions black people have made to our society throughout history,” Sall said.
DeSantis’ recent decisions open up a larger discussion about Black and queer erasure from history books.
“He’s eliminating the possibility for students to be able to engage in Black and queer history,” said Florida student Noah Green.
Despite the controversy, this course has been successful where it has been taught. At Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana, so many students were interested in taking the course that two classes were made available instead of the one that was initially planned for. The course has given students the opportunity to critically engage in conversations about Black history.
“Taking this class …I realized how much is not said in other classes,” said Malina Ouyang, a student at Baton Rouge Magnet High School, in an interview with PBS.
Melissa Tracy, a charter school teacher from Delaware reported to The Guardian that she has received “overwhelmingly positive feedback” from her students who have taken this course.
“Some of my students are actually frustrated with what is happening in other parts of the country,” she said, because they feel that students across the country should have access to this course.
Some students, like Matthew Evans from Baton Rouge Magnet High School, see the political controversy as “a distraction.”
“Any time you want to try to silence something, you will only make someone want to learn about it even more,” Evans said to PBS in a recent interview.