Florida rejected AP African American Studies. Here's what's actually being taught in the course

The head of the College Board defended its new Advanced Placement course on African American studies, weeks after Florida said it would ban the class.

The College Board on Wednesday released its official – and revised  framework for the course, and CEO David Coleman told USA TODAY that "at the College Board, we don't really look to the statements of political leaders.

"We look to the record of history."

About a week earlier, on Jan. 24, a spokesperson for Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis claimed on Twitter that the College Board “will be revising the course for the entire nation” due to the governor’s “principled stand for education over identity politics.”

The new framework does address many of the concerns Florida raised, and those topics are not included, or they are included only as optional project topics. But Coleman was firm that the changes to the framework have been in the works for a year.

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The course, which is 10 years in the making, already is being taught in 60 high schools. Next school year, it will be taught at approximately 500 high schools nationwide before being offered at any school interested in providing the course. It emerges at the same time as a racial reckoning in the United States and the debate over the teaching of critical race theory, a college-level concept about systemic racism.

"We hope that everyone will give (the course) a fresh look, a fresh read because we think that that people will be impressed with what they see there," he said. "What they'll find is an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture."

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Why is AP African American Studies in the spotlight?

Officials in Florida rejected the new AP course, arguing that the class for high school students does not comply with state law.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a crowd before publicly signing the Stop Woke bill in April 2022.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a crowd before publicly signing the Stop Woke bill in April 2022.

Florida education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. last month shared a list of concerns about the course, ranging from broad concepts to specific authors. DeSantis said the state rejected the course because it included the study of “queer theory" and movements that advocate for “abolishing prisons.” 

The decision quickly drew criticism inside and outside of the state.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the move “incomprehensible," responding to a question from USA TODAY "Let’s be clear. They didn’t block AP European history. They didn’t block our art history. They didn’t block our music history."

And last week, civil rights attorney Ben Crump said if Florida officials continue to reject the course, legal action could follow. 

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What’s actually being taught in this class for teenagers? What can high school students expect to learn? USA TODAY analyzed the official framework for AP African American Studies.

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What’s actually being taught in AP African American Studies

Brandi Waters, AP African American Studies' senior director, told USA TODAY the class is "an exciting course for students because it helps them to see a fuller picture of the world around them."

The course – which students can use to earn college credit depending on their scores on its exam and whether an institution accepts the class – is broken up into four units, each of which includes dozens of potential topics and assignments.

"So what (students are) really asking for when they asked for this class is the tools that the field of African American Studies gives them, which is this picture of how different communities are really interrelated," Waters said, "a diversity of lived experience and feeling like they now have more lenses through which to view American life and how disparate communities in America are connected to the broader world."

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The framework also includes a research project for students, asking them to analyze a topic or theme from the field of African American Studies. The document stresses that the project topics can “be refined by local states and districts.”

Here's how the class is laid out for educators and students:

  • Origins of the African Diaspora: This unit includes information on early African empires and kingdoms, before and during the transatlantic slave trade.

  • Freedom, Enslavement and Resistance: Students may learn about the slave trade, how slavery worked to “assault the bodies, minds and spirits of enslaved Africans and their descendants,” the abolition of slavery and more. It includes sources such as maps snowing the slave trade out of Africa, Frederick Douglass' speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” and other materials.

  • The Practice of Freedom: This section includes the period known as Reconstruction in America, as well as Jim Crow laws and other political, social and cultural movements. Students might explore the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, writings from W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, or the Supreme Court’s 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, when the court ruled racial segregation was constitutional. 

  • Movements and Debates: Students may learn about the Civil Rights Movement, housing discrimination against Black Americans, the Black Power Movement, feminist movements and “diversity within Black communities.” The course materials for the final unit include writings from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other political figures, in addition to Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and others.

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The Florida Department of Education did not respond to a request for comment about the framework published Wednesday.

Coleman noted that the process of “moving beyond the pilot materials” of the course has taken a year and involved consulting with about 300 professors. He also said no state has seen the framework before it was released on Wednesday.

Contributing: Kathryn Varn, Tallahassee Democrat

Follow reporter Marina Pitofsky @marina_pitofsky. Email: mpitofsky@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Florida blocked AP African American Studies. What is in the class?