J. Pharoah Doss: AP African American Studies—Can Florida be wrong but not wrong?

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In 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that said federal contractors couldn’t use Critical Race Theory in racial sensitivity training.

Most Americans have never heard of CRT. The few that did couldn’t explain it. Meanwhile, the Left claimed CRT was a supplement to Black history, while the Right insisted CRT promoted perpetual conflict between the races.

Confused parents wanted to know whether CRT was history or conflict theory. If CRT was the latter, parents didn’t want it taught in K–12 public schools. The Left denied CRT was taught in K–12 curriculums, but the Right insisted CRT was incorporated through teaching strategies.

In 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 7, which was meant to protect Floridians from discrimination and “woke indoctrination.”

The Governor’s website stated, “HB 7 protects civil rights in employment and K–20 education by specifying that subjecting an employee or student to a required activity that promotes, advances, or compels individuals to believe discriminatory concepts, constitutes unlawful discrimination. [However] The bill authorizes discussion of topics such as sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination, in an age-appropriate manner … Schools are required to teach factual information on topics including African American history and the Holocaust instead of subjective indoctrination that pushes collective guilt.”

In 2023, Florida turned down the Advanced Placement in African-American Studies pilot course from the College Board. The course was meant to introduce high school students to the field.

Florida’s Department of Education insisted that the AP African-American Studies course was contrary to Florida’s law and lacked educational value. Florida’s DOE told the College Board that if the AP African-American Studies course comes into compliance and incorporates “historically accurate content” the DOE will reconsider.

Florida’s DOE stated that these course topics were out of bounds. 1). Intersectionality and Activism 2). Black Queer Studies 3). Movements for Black Lives 4). Black Feminist and Literary Thought 5). The Reparations Movement

DeSantis reiterated, “We want education, not indoctrination … We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have agendas imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”  Florida state senator (D) Shervin Jones replied, “It’s crazy how AP African American Studies makes the chopping block.” Florida schools offer AP classes in European history as well as Japanese, German, Italian and Spanish language and culture. 

A host of DeSantis critics claimed his “anti-woke” campaign was staged to gain national notoriety for a presidential bid. This criticism missed the actual overreach of the legislation. Originally, parents wanted CRT eliminated from K–12 classrooms, but this legislation covers K–20 (kindergarten to graduate degree). Advance placement offers students adult-level courses in which they receive college credit. Florida’s DOE is wrong to subject an AP course to the new legislation’s age-appropriate criteria, as if an AP course is a standard K-12 course.

The above-mentioned five topics were said to be against Florida’s new law because the subjects had no educational value within the context of African American history. Here’s where the problem lies. Florida’s DOE views African American Studies the same way the Left views CRT—as an extension of history.

It’s not. 

Maulana Karenga wrote in his 1982 text book An Introduction to Black Studies, “The struggle to win Black Studies coincided with the general revolt against the structure and functioning of the University … Most major colleges and universities agreed to establish some form of Black Studies by 1969. The struggle for Black Studies extended to Black colleges, which had prided themselves on being pioneers in teaching about the Black experience. What they actually taught was ‘Negro History’ which both in content and consciousness was different from the liberational thrust for which Black Studies advocates struggled.”

Karenga made it clear in print: “Black Studies is the scientific study of the multidimensional aspects of Black thought and practice in their current and historical unfolding.  Thus, Black Studies is a social science [that] focuses its inquiry and analysis on Black thought and behavior. And since Black thought and practice is such an inclusive focus, Black Studies is compelled to be interdisciplinary.”

Since African American Studies covers a lot of different fields, Florida’s DOE was wrong when it said that the five topics above have no educational value. The above-mentioned five topics are important, not because they add to history but because they are vital to a field rooted in conflict theory.

Florida is technically wrong about the AP African American Studies course, but they’re not wrong about the academic discipline. 



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