Florida gives reasons for rejecting AP African American studies class
Florida’s education commissioner, Manny Diaz Jr. said parts of the course were “masquerading as education.”
By ELIZA FAWCETT and ANEMONA HARTOCOLLIS
After rejecting an Advanced Placement course in African American studies for high school students, the Florida Department of Education offered an explanation of what it found objectionable in the curriculum — citing examples of what it calls “the woke indoctrination” of students that would violate state laws restricting how race can be taught in the classroom.
In a document released Friday, the Department of Education seemed to object to the more contemporary and, therefore, the more inherently politicized, parts of the curriculum, which is being developed by the College Board. The department cites the inclusion of readings from many major African American scholars, activists and writers, who explored subjects like Black queer studies, Black feminist literary thought, the reparations movement and intersectionality.
The state says intersectionality — which refers to the way various forms of inequality often work together and build on one another — is foundational to critical race theory and “ranks people based on their race, wealth, gender and sexual orientation.”
The Education Department also singled out activists like Angela Davis, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for being “a self-avowed Communist and Marxist”; Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School and the UCLA School of Law, who it said was “known as the founder of intersectionality”; and the feminist writer bell hooks, for using language like “white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”
The College Board did not respond to requests for comment, but it said in a statement Thursday that the multidisciplinary course was still undergoing a multiyear pilot phase.
“The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result,” the organization said. “We will publicly release the updated course framework when it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools.”
Florida law requires the study of African American history. But Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely considered a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has gained national prominence for backing restrictions on what students in Florida can and cannot learn. Last year, he signed the Individual Freedoms Act — known as the Stop WOKE Act — into law, which regulates how race-related issues are taught in public universities, colleges and in workplace trainings. (A federal judge blocked part of the law, which still applies to public schools.)
He also signed legislation last year, referred to by critics as “Don’t Say Gay,” that prohibits classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades. In 2021, the state Board of Education banned public schools from teaching critical race theory, an academic framework for understanding racism in the United States that became a political rallying cry for parents and political activists on the right.
And this month, the Education Department informed the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers AP exams, that it would not include the African American studies class in the state’s course directory, asserting that it was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
Manny Diaz Jr., Florida’s education commissioner, said on Twitter on Friday that the state had “rejected an AP course filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law.”
“We proudly require the teaching of African American history,” he said. “We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.”
Officials in the state have said that if the College Board revises the course to comply with state law, it will reconsider the course for approval.
State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County, said that the Department of Education’s refusal to include the AP course reflected an attempt by state officials to “whitewash” American history.
“We’re back at square one, seeing that we once again have to defend ourselves to be legitimate in America,” he said.
The curriculum, which contains the authors and subjects mentioned in the Education Department letter, has not been released by the College Board but has circulated online. An early version is being tested at 60 schools, according to someone involved in its development but who asked to remain anonymous because it has not been officially released.
The curriculum is being constantly revised, based on feedback from African American scholars, according to two people involved. The final version, one of the people working on it said, is likely to contain more facts and less theory.
The topics at issue — six of the roughly 100 that constitute the course — all came from the last unit of the class, which covers “Movements and Debates.”
For instance, the state Education Department objected to a section on the reparations movement.
According to an early version of the curriculum, that section “explores the case for reparations for the centuries-long enslavement and legal discrimination of African Americans in the U.S.,” including examination of a stalled House bill that would create a commission to study reparations, and the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, who has written extensively on the issue.
“All points and resources in this study advocate for reparations,” the state Education Department said of the topic. “There is no critical perspective or balancing opinion in this lesson.”
State Rep. Christopher Benjamin, a Democrat representing a district including Miami Gardens, pushed for an amendment to the Stop WOKE Act that ensured that teachers would be able to teach students how slavery, racial oppression and segregation have infringed upon individual freedoms.
In the wake of the state’s rejection of the AP course, Benjamin said he was focused on ensuring that Florida students learn Black history.
“Florida needs to determine what is going to be taught,” he said, “and then ensure that Black history is being taught.”