The College Board can protect AP African American Studies for Florida students, but will they?

I’m not surprised by Governor Ron DeSantis’ political stunt to reject Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies in Florida. White supremacists will always try to limit access to information because empowered groups of people will upend oppressive systems.

He downplayed the significance of the course saying it “lacks educational value” but he knows this is not true. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. The course is so valuable that it could jeopardize his power.

There is only one option to fight such blatant racism: The College Board, the creators and administrators of AP exams, should make the AP African American Studies course available online, for every student and teacher to access.

Although the Florida Department of Education is the one picking this fight, I’m turning my attention to the College Board because it is their responsibility to protect the content. It is inexcusable for them to kowtow to conservative leaders who do not value educational justice. If the College Board edits the course to remove “intersectionality” and “Black Queer studies”, they will be complicit in the continued erasure and violence against these communities.

The College Board needs to step up.

Up until now, the College Board has deemed Black history as less important than white history, based on what content is worthy of assessment on the AP Exams. The greatest power the College Board has is deciding what is on the test. As much as we cringe at exam-centered curriculums, the test ultimately tells students what is worth learning. Textbooks and even non-AP curriculums are then influenced by those decisions.

When it comes to creating inclusive frameworks, the College Board has a history of almost doing the right thing, but then whitewashing the curriculum anyway. In 2014, they published a new AP US History framework that had students seriously contending with the consequences of American white supremacy and imperialism. It was a much-needed, stark analysis of historical violence on marginalized communities. And when the conservatives squirmed, the College Board took a huge step back to create a vague, whitewashed framework that omitted the words “racist and xenophobia”.

For 15 years, the AP World History framework covered 12,000 years of global human history. It was the first time many students were introduced to the golden eras of Africa, Asia, and the Americas pre-colonization. Then in 2018, the College Board announced a massive revision that would start the course in 1450, which led to my public sparring with Senior Vice President of AP Trevor Packer. Black and Brown students deserved to have a course that taught their histories before slavery, but this new update ruined that chance. The public protest led to the restoration of 250 years, but we still lost so much rich content.

Let’s be clear, the need for a separate AP African American Studies course is because of what’s omitted across the AP frameworks. Black history is American history. African history is human history. Black contributions to art, architecture, music, science, and technology deserve space in the main curriculums.

Short of updates to the entire AP framework stack, the College Board is taking a huge step forward with AP African American Studies and finally telling Black and Brown students that their histories matter.

The College Board does deserve some praise for the course that has been in development for more than a decade. Piloted by 60 teachers this year, the drafted course framework takes students on an interdisciplinary journey from the post-classical empires of West Africa to Afrofuturism. The team that created this curriculum noted that “the spirit of the course must emphasize Black joy and resilience while offering an unflinching examination of traumatic developments, patterns, and processes.” I’m sincerely impressed by the intentionality of the course — and I don’t say that often about the College Board.

Now, the question is whether the College Board will repeat their pattern of backtracking — or actually do the right thing. If they believe in the educational value of African American Studies, we need them to protect students from the expected backlash that will surely extend beyond Florida. It’s only a matter of time before other red states find ways to reject or underfund the course – this was always going to happen.

If the College Board responded with a plan to offer AP African American Studies as an online course, then millions of students could engage with this content every year and have an opportunity to take the online assessment for college credit, side stepping these harmful decisions made at the local level. We can overcome the loud minority of calculated white supremacists by making the course material as widely available as possible.

Fellow critics of DeSantis’ decision are calling for student protests and urging the College Board to pull all AP access from Florida. There is a collective and rightful anger, but both of those reactions are ultimately harmful for students. If the College Board pulls AP out of Florida, the hope is that DeSantis will cave to the affluent white families of his base who will make sure their kids get access to college credits. That is a big gamble to take, especially when the students themselves will have to deal with the consequences. 

There is also a lot of pressure on the students to fix this. The Fiveable team is sending lots of love and support to Florida high school students Elijah, Victoria,and Juliette – the lead student plaintiffs in the planned lawsuit against Gov. DeSantis. And to the other students across the country who are undoubtedly planning actions: we stand with you too. 

But we cannot expect students to fix this. We lean on them to fight for gun control, climate protections, LGBTQIA+ rights, and to fix an endless list of broken systems. This is in addition to the normal activities that a teenager should be focusing on like school, extracurricular clubs and part-time jobs. Why should we ask students to fix yet another problem that they didn’t create?

Historically, we overthrow white supremacy when we expand access to information. This is one of the many learnings we can gain from engaging in African American Studies. The course curriculum demonstrates the many ways in which information changed the course of a people’s path. The rise of the abolitionist movement was in part because of Black people, both free and enslaved, sharing their stories so the world could understand the horrors of slavery. The Civil Rights Movement finally got federal legislative support after the world watched the violence in Selma on television. The Black Lives Matter movement of the present has momentum because of viral videos showcasing police brutality. Imagine the progress of the next decades if every student is equipped with all of the lessons of African American Studies?

The College Board has the power to publish both the course as an online offering, but will they? When COVID hit, they churned out hundreds of YouTube review videos and an entire online assessment platform in a matter of weeks. The capacity is there, and they could even offer high school credits by partnering with accredited organizations. They just have to decide to take action.

The College Board is our best chance at reacting in the most student-friendly way that protects young people.

Information is powerful. It can change the course of history. But too often we see the powers-at-be gatekeep and decide which information is important and who should have access to it. This is what is happening in Florida with AP African American Studies. Black students are being told their history doesn’t matter, and that they don’t matter.

It’s time for the College Board to take a stand and show that Black history matters — to stand on the right side of history — to show Black students that they matter.