Florida rejected an Advanced Placement African American studies course because it contains critical race theory and state leaders objected to its lessons on “Black queer studies,” Black feminist thought and “the Black Struggle in the 21st Century,” according to the Florida Department of Education.
The department also criticized some of the authors whose works were part of the course because they were communists or wrote about the ideology. And it objected to the AP course’s lessons on reparations, the idea that descendants of enslaved people should be financially compensated, according to a summary of concerns sent to the Orlando Sentinel late Friday.
“All points and resources in this study advocate for reparations. There is no critical perspective or balancing opinion in this lesson,” it said.
The department’s decision to reject the course, made public Wednesday, generated national headlines and prompted harsh criticism from state Democratic leaders who said Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Republican administration was trying to whitewash history.
“Ron DeSantis wants to pretend that Black history isn’t American history. Leaders like him are the reason why Florida has seen a huge surge in hate crimes and acts of racism over the last two years. Kids deserve to go to school to learn history, not hate,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Orlando, the first Afro-Cuban elected to Congress.
The administration does not want to ban the teaching of African American history, which for years has been a required subject in Florida public schools, but it cannot allow a course to be taught if it violates Florida law and amounts to “woke indoctrination masquerading as education,” tweeted Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, a former GOP state senator tapped by DeSantis for the top school job last year.
The AP African American studies course was being taught in 60 high schools nationwide as part of a pilot project and is set to be offered to all high schools in the 2024-25 school year, according to the College Board. It runs the Advanced Placement program that offers college-level classes to high school students.
Florida’s decision to reject the AP class meant that the Florida State University Schools’ high school — one of the pilot schools — stopped teaching it midyear, switching to a state-approved African American history class. No other public high school can offer it when it debuts unless the College Board makes the changes the state wants.
In April, DeSantis signed what he dubbed his “stop woke act,” which banned “critical race theory,” or CRT, in public schools and what he called the theory’s “indoctrinating principles,” such as the idea that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”
Critics called it an effort to prevent schools from addressing racism and its effect on America and from teaching history about Blacks and other minorities.
Some also contend DeSantis, a likely candidate for president in 2024, is using critical race theory and other culture war issues to solidify support from the conservative base within the GOP.
State Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said “hysteria over Critical Race Theory” was to blame for the course’s rejection, just as last year it “led to the banning of math books.” The education rejected a record number of math textbooks publishers wanted to sell to schools, claiming they aimed to “indoctrinate” students with CRT.
Thompson, in a statement, noted African American history is one of many required subjects in Florida public schools.
Will Florida “reject instruction on the history of the Holocaust or the study of women’s or Hispanic contributions to the United States … or is it only African American History that lacks educational value in the eyes of the current administration?” said Thompson, who is Black and a former teacher and college administrator.
Florida education officials told the College Board on Jan. 12 that the course would not be taught in Florida’s public high schools because it violates state law. That brief, unsigned letter did not detail what parts of the course were objectionable.
But on Friday night the education department released a chart it devised showing six “concerns,” with brief examples but not the full course framework or other details that would show the full context of the topics covered.
The new African American studies course’s curricula isn’t yet public, but it will be next year after its lessons are made final based on feedback from the pilot schools, the College Board said in an emailed statement Thursday.
The goal of the course, it said, is to draw “from a variety of fields – literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, science – to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.” It is not a “theory course,” the College Board said, but one where “students instead immerse themselves in primary sources.”
As in all AP courses, “students are never required to agree with a particular opinion or adopt a particular ideology, but they are expected to analyze different perspectives,” it said.
The College Board’s AP program currently offers 38 courses in subjects from art history to physics to U.S. government.
The College Board could not be reached for further comment Saturday.
In addition to CRT, the education department cited as concerns lessons on related topics such as “intersectionality,” which “ranks people based on their race, wealth, gender and sexual orientation” and passages that mentioned “white supremacist superstructures that oppress us” and the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
The department also seemed to take issue with the political views of some of the authors whose works would be read.
“Angela Davis – self-avowed Communist and Marxist,” its chart said.
A professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, Robin D.G. Kelley, seemed to face criticism because he “argues that activism, rather than the university system, is the catalyst for social transformation.” The chart also noted “Kelley’s first book was a study of Black communists in Alabama.”
Florida has required instruction in African American history for decades and that requirement ”has been expanded in Florida since Governor Ron DeSantis took office,” said Cassie Palelis, a spokesperson for the department, in an email.
In 2020, DeSantis signed a bill that requires students to learn about the Ocoee Massacre. The election day massacre in 1920 began when a Black man unsuccessfully tried to vote. That night, an angry mob of white men fired guns and set buildings in Ocoee’s Black community on fire, sending Black residents fleeing in terror.
The issue wasn’t Black history but that AP course veered into topics education leaders said lacked “educational value” and violated the law.
“As we’ve said all along, if College Board decides to revise its course to comply with Florida law, we will come back to the table,” Diaz tweeted.