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College Board admits to mistakes surrounding African American Studies course rejected by DeSantis

By Sarah May
|
February 13, 2023

In the latest twist to the saga surrounding its new AP African American Studies course, the College Board over the weekend acknowledged that it made errors in its roll-out of the program, while also taking aim at Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, whom the organization accused of distorting the controversy for a “political win,” as The Hill reports.

The organization also accused the DeSantis administration of engaging in the spread of “disinformation” when the Florida Department of Education rejected the initial version of the course over issues with the content of the curriculum and ultimately secured key changes in the offering.

College Board: Mistakes were made

As heated rhetoric about the recent alterations to the AP African American history course continues, the College Board just adopted a defiant tone in response to claims that it caved to pressure from the DeSantis administration, while also admitting to errors in messaging along the way.

In a Sunday statement, the organization expressed regret for not “denouncing” DeSantis' criticisms of the pilot version of the course, saying, “Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field.”

“We have made the mistake of treating [Florida Department of Education] with the courtesy we always accord to an education agency, but they have instead exploited this courtesy for their political agenda,” the statement went on, accusing the DeSantis administration of claiming credit for a result in which it played no part.

The statement of contrition comes amid calls from some Black activist groups upset by the changes to the AP course for Coleman's resignation, as USA Today noted.

Controversy erupts

The tension between DeSantis and the College Board ramped up in earnest last month when the Florida Department of Education – in a move backed by the governor – rejected a proposed Advanced Placement African American History course due to its inclusion of controversial subject areas such as Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations and queer studies, as CBS News reported.

The agency also took issue with the inclusion of historians and authors whose writings address critical race theory, communism, prison abolition, and aggressively anti-capitalist themes.

According to the Department of Education, many of the highly contentious topics within the curriculum were presented without “critical perspective or balancing opinion.”

DeSantis himself was outspoken in his criticism of the course content, saying at a press conference, “This course on Black history, what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids and so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that's a political agenda.”

Revisions secured

In the wake of Florida's strong stance against certain components of the AP course, it was announced earlier this month that the curriculum had been revised to downplay some of the most incendiary elements raised by DeSantis and the Department of Education, as the New York Post noted.

The new framework announced by the College Board indicated that reparations, queer life, and Black Lives Matter would not be included on the formal AP exam and would simply be included on a list of optional topics individual school districts could elect to cover.

Addressing the newly constituted course offering, David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, maintained that the curriculum represents “an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture.”

NPR noted that while the College Board insisted that no “purge” of controversial lesson areas occurred, it did acknowledge that the “breadth” of the course framework had undergone a reduction, including on topics such as “Black feminism” and “gay Black Americans.”

Debate persists

As the Miami Herald indicated, the adjustments to the AP course that followed the DeSantis administration's objections were not warmly received by a number of Black leaders, who lamented the “watering down” of the content to stay in politicians' good graces.

Daniella Pierre, president of the NAACP's Miami-Dade branch decried DeSantis' apparent influence on the final course content, saying, “While the College Board might say [the changes] are due to pedagogy, I'm not so certain. Because I see that [the topics removed] were questioned by the administration.”

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, also slammed the changes, saying, “It is now clear, to the public, that the College Board's leadership cared more about political approval from radical, anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, anti-truth extremists than making sure our children's education prepares them for the future, and teaches them, in an age-appropriate way, the uncensored, and full history of the United States.”

Despite the frustration voiced by some on the left over the decision to de-emphasize the polarizing themes in the pilot version of the AP course, it seems probable that millions of Floridians – who overwhelmingly gave DeSantis a second term back in November – agree with his take on African American studies, namely his stance saying, “It's just cut and dried history. You learn all the basics, you learn about the great figures, and you know, I view it as American history. I don't view it as separate history.”