College Board changes syllabus for AP African American studies after pressure from Ron DeSantis

Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, Black feminism, and queer intersectionality are no longer exam topics

Published February 1, 2023 4:04PM (EST)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The College Board on Wednesday released the official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies, missing much of the content that drew critical pushback from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Stripped from the curriculum were the names of many prominent Black writers and scholars who discuss critical race theory, Black feminism and the intersection between race and queer identity. 

Another significant portion removed from the course was the topic of Black Lives Matter. Taking its place is a new subject — "Black conservatism" — offered as an idea for a research project. 

The AP course was announced in August, with the College Board claiming it was time to offer a class to high school students that discussed these topics. Many Black scholars, including Harvard's Henry Louis Gates Jr., praised the course — but that was before an early draft of it was leaked to conservative publications like the National Review and The Florida Standard, sparking outrage among right-wingers. 

DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential contender, announced in January that he would ban the curriculum from public schools in Florida, basing his decision on the draft version of the course. State education officials also claimed that the curriculum was not historically accurate and that it would violate state laws that regulate how topics related to race are taught in public schools.  

The Florida governor revealed on Tuesday his proposal to eliminate "ideological conformity" from higher education by mandating courses in Western civilization, eliminating diversity programs and reducing the protections of tenure.

The College Board is also facing opposition from more than 24 states who have tried to limit or ban critical race theory from the classroom, according to a tracking project by the law school at UCLA.

David Coleman, the head of the College Board, told The New York Times that the changes to the course were all made for teaching reasons, not because of political pressure. 

"At the College Board, we can't look to statements of political leaders," he said. Instead, Coleman said "the input of professors" and "longstanding AP principles" influenced the changes to course material.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

He explained to the outlet that during an initial test of the course this year, the board was told that the secondary sources provided were "quite dense" and that students would understand primary sources better, as that is always how AP courses have been taught.

"We experimented with a lot of things including assigning secondary sources, and we found a lot of issues arose as we did," Coleman told the Times. "I think what is most surprising and powerful for most people is looking directly at people's experience."

The College Board has largely retreated from making any statements that could be perceived as political. The revised 234-page curriculum framework includes information on Africa, slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights movement, but leaves out significant contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter, and topics like incarceration, the state of LGBTQ+ life in America, and the debate over reparations. 

Instead of including the latter in the exam, students are simply offered to study them for a required research project. However, in many states, even those topics "can be refined by local states and districts."

Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia, who is credited for writing foundational works in critical race theory, has been removed from the course material, as has legendary Black feminist writer bell hooks. 

Yale professor Roderick Ferguson, who has written about queer social movements, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, an NYU Journalism professor who wrote the award-winning "Case for Reparations" in 2014, have also been crossed off the list of important African American writers and scholars. 

AP exams have long been used to show a student's academic performance when applying to college, with many higher education institutions accepting high scores on the exam as a form of college credit. 

Chester E. Finn, Jr., a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, told the Times that by not completely removing the "touchy parts," of African-American studies, the College Board won't get as much pushback from either side, making it a "smart strategy."

"DeSantis likes to make noise and he's running for president. But they've been getting feedback from all over the place in the 60 schools they've been piloting this in. I think it's a way of dealing with the United States at this point, not just DeSantis," Finn explained. "Some of these things they might want to teach in New York, but not Dallas. Or San Francisco but not St. Petersburg."

However, Crenshaw told the Times that these topics are essential to the subject as a whole, explaining that the course "is a corrective, it is an intervention, it is an expansion."

"For it to be true to the mission of telling the true history, it cannot exclude intersectionality, it cannot exclude critical thinking about race," she explained. "African American history is not just male. It's not just straight. It's not just middle class. It has to tell the story of all of us."

The new curriculum needs to be accepted in order for the College Board, a nonprofit, to earn additional revenue. The Times reported that the Board boasted more than $1 billion in program service revenue in 2019, with more than $490 million coming from "AP and Instruction," according to its tax-exempt filing.

By Samaa Khullar

Samaa Khullar is a former news fellow at Salon with a background in Middle Eastern history and politics. She is a graduate of New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism institute and is pursuing investigative reporting.

MORE FROM Samaa Khullar

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Politics Ron Desantis