College Board Made AP African American Studies Class Dumber, But Still Not Dumb Enough For Florida

The College Board, which oversees the Advanced Placement program, insists it didn't bowdlerize its African American studies AP course under pressure from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. However, it seems like they screwed it up all by themselves.

Last year, while developing the new African American studies AP course, the word "systemic" appeared often. The Washington Postdescribes the adjective as "politically charged," but it's also quite descriptive of racial realities. The course material would've acknowledged that Black communities still endure the effects of “systemic marginalization.” "Systemic” was associated with "discrimination, oppression, inequality, disempowerment and racism." Students would've learned the essential links between Black Panther activism and “systemic inequality that disproportionately affected African Americans.” They weren't just angry Black people who were fans of Marvel Comics.


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"Systemic" is a very triggering term for the Right. Republicans might grudgingly accept that racism exists (beyond simply Affirmative Action, Black History Month, and BET), but they recoil at the idea that it's organized, structural, pervasive, and ingrained. That all sounds way too much like work.

So, coincidentally, the word "systemic" vanished from the official African American studies course framework, which was released on Feb. 1. "Systemic" is a crucial term for Black history scholars and civil rights advocates, but it appears nowhere in the bold new course framework. It's like trying to type with a missing "E" key. You're not going to get very far.

A senior College Board official now admits the organization was concerned about how certain people might respond to “systemic” and some other naughty words that describe institutionalized racism in America.

“All of those terms were going to be challenging,” said Jason Manoharan, vice president for AP program development. He said the College Board worried some phrases and concepts had been “co-opted for a variety of purposes” and were being used as “political instruments.” So the organization took a cautious approach to the final edits even as it sought to preserve robust content on historical and cultural impacts of slavery and racial discrimination.

Manoharan said the College Board "wanted this course to be adopted by 50 states, and we wanted as many students and teachers as possible to be able to experience it." So, the College Board proactively beclowned itself and Florida still rejected the course. No, that's not classic irony. It's just stupid.

The Post broke down the changes from April 2022 to February 2023 in the AP course's key words, phrases, and names. "Reparations" and "incarceration" went from 15 references to one each. These are both obviously relevant topics of debate. Black Lives Matter and "Intersections" are also now only mentioned once. "Womanism," the Movement for Black Lives, and the author Kimberlé Crenshaw went from 14, six, and five references respectively to absolute zero.

Crenshaw is the supposed "architect of critical race theory," but learning about something is far different from embracing its precepts. Republicans who complain about supposed "woke indoctrination" seem to have trouble with this basic concept. Critical race theory has become a major political issue over the past few years, so it's appalling that an academic course would take the pink elephants approach to CRT. I took religion courses in college. My atheism isn't solely rooted in my regular viewings of Jesus Christ Superstar.

But hey, let's end on a slightly positive note: The references to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. almost doubled. Although, I'm afraid students will still somehow only learn about that single line from his "I Have A Dream" speech. The late Colin Powell went from no references to three. Barack Obama went from two to three references, so good for him.

This still sucks, though. Cowardice has limited educational benefit.

[Washington Post]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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