By Diane Ravitch, dianaravitch.com
The College Board has not released the syllabus for the AP African-American Studies course that the state of Florida wants to ban because, they say, it has “no educational value” and violates state law by invoking “critical race theory.”
But the syllabus was released by NBC News and is easily found on the internet.
I suggest that you read it for yourself.
Stanley Kurtz, a conservative academic, wrote a scathing critique in National Review, where he blasted the AP course as “Neo-Marxist” and intent on propagating a socialist-Marxist-Communist mindset. Google and you will find follow-up articles by Kurtz.
I taught the history of American education, and I wrote books that specifically included the history of the education of Black Americans. To write about the history, I read many of the authors cited in the AP course. None of those authors, like Frederick Douglass or Carter Woodson or W.E.B. DuBois or Booker T. Washington, should be excluded from a course like this.
I will say without hesitation that the course is not, as Florida officials claim, “leftwing indoctrination.” Very few Americans know anything about African history, so my guess is that 99% of that history will be new to every reader. I am not sure why DeSantis is upset by “intersectionality.” A reporter should ask him to define it. I saw no problem in the mention of the Black Lives Matter movement or the reparations movement, because they are part of history; they exist. Why ban them? The DeSantis team wants the AP course of study to be upbeat; to show the celebratory rightwing view of American history; to exclude authentic African American thinkers, like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Michelle Alexander.
True there is a topic on “Black Queer Studies” that must drive Ron DeSantis and his allies crazy. I doubt that any students will be turned gay by learning about the topic. But this topic alone will be sufficient to get the course banned in DeSantis’ state and probably other red states. It might get axed by the College Board, which is alert to its bottom line. If the pushback hurts revenue, the College Board is likely to beat a hasty retreat.
Kurtz is right on one count. He wrote that “A stunningly large portion of the APAAS curriculum is devoted to the history of black studies.” This is true. Students will learn a lot about the leading scholars of the field and their contributions. Much of the scholarship is about the scholarship. And much, rightly, is about the brutal exploitation and degradation of African peoples.
In discussions with students about their expectations for the course, students said there should be an “unflinching look at history and culture.” Of course. They don’t want a sanitized history. They also said “Emphasis should be placed on joy and accomplishments rather than trauma.” They felt that they had learned about slavery every year, and “students feel they have been inundated with trauma.” In this course, it’s hard to find the “joy and accomplishments” that students are hoping to learn about. It is unlikely that they will learn much about barrier-breaking individuals like Dr. Charles Drew; LBJ’s Housing Secretary Robert Weaver; Guy Bluford (the first Black astronaut) or Mae Jamison (the first Black female astronaut); Ralph Bunche (the first African American to win a Nobel Prize for his diplomacy); Leontyne Price, the great international opera star, born in Laurel, Mississippi, or the newest international opera star Michelle Bradley, born in Versailles, Kentucky; or even the first Black President, Barack Obama. Of the hundreds and thousands of African Americans who have achieved their dreams, not much is said. The students say they know a lot about Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks; they want more. And they should have the pleasure of learning the inspiring stories of African-Americans who shattered stereotypes and made history.
The College Board says this is a preliminary version of the ultimate AP exam. It’s a good start. Let’s see if it can survive the political maelstrom.
Diane Ravitch publishes Diane Ravitch’s Blog (dianeravitch.com). She is the mother of two sons who went to private schools in New York City. She believes that parents have the right to send their children to the school they choose, but she opposes public funding of private and religious choices.