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AP African American Studies
AP African American Studies
Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

What's AP African American Studies and Why Has Florida Banned It?

Here's what to know about AP African American Studies and why the course has become a topic of discussion recently.

AP African American Studies. You've probably seen these words (or AP African American History) recently as they've been in headlines connected to Florida. As the first and only state (so far) to ban the course, the Florida Department of Education's Office of Articulation and Ron DeSantis have turned AP African American Studies into an educational and political issue. But what is this course that has the same state behind the problematic Stop WOKE Act up in arms? And what does the future of the course look like as a result? Here's everything you need to know about AP African American Studies.

So, what's AP African American Studies?

According to the official AP African American Studies course framework available on the AP (Advanced Placement) website, the course "examines the diversity of African American experiences through direct encounters with authentic and varied sources."

"Students explore key topics that extend from early African kingdoms to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the contemporary moment. Given the interdisciplinary character of African American studies, students in the course will develop skills across multiple fields, with an emphasis on developing historical, literary, visual, and data analysis skills. This course foregrounds a study of the diversity of Black communities in the United States within the broader context of Africa and the African diaspora," a summary for the course reads.

So, not only would aforementioned topics like early African kingdoms be addressed, but also abolition, the Black Power Movement, and much more. A deeper look at the course overview also shows the sources that would be referenced in the course, including the Black Panther Party's 10-Point Program, Ida B. Wells' A Red Record, and Alain Locke's The New Negro: An Interpretation.

When was it made?

The AP website states that "For more than a decade, the AP Program has worked alongside colleges, universities, and secondary schools to create an AP course in African American studies." In 2017, a pilot program for the course was introduced at 11 public schools across the country. In 2021, the College Board announced that it would be officially piloting the course during the 2022-2023 academic year at 60 schools throughout the U.S., with plans to expand it to approximately 200 schools between 2023-2024.

A number of experts contributed to the course, most notably Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Henry Louis Gates, the latter of which said the following about the course last year: "Nothing is more dramatic than having the College Board launch an AP course in a field—that signifies ultimate acceptance and ultimate academic legitimacy. AP African American Studies is not CRT. It’s not the 1619 Project. It is a mainstream, rigorously vetted, academic approach to a vibrant field of study, one half a century old in the American academy, and much older, of course, in historically Black colleges and universities."

AP African American Studies Books are piled up in the classroom for students takeing AP African-American Studies at Overland High School on November 1, 2022 in Aurora, Colorado. The AP African-American Studies course is part of a national pilot class that about 60 schools nationwide are participating in. Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Why is it being targeted by Florida?

Well, first we have to begin with 2021, when the Florida Education Board banned both critical race theory and the 1619 Project from being taught in classrooms.

"Instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective and may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holocaust, and may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence," a part of the rule stated, along with declaring that teachers must "serve as facilitators for student discussion and do not share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view."

In recent years, critical race theory (CRT for short) has become a catchall for any teachings on equity and race (a departure from what it actually is, which is an examination of the impact race and racism have had in American law and culture), with right-wing figures using it to limit what gets taught in classrooms and banning books.

Also, Florida's Stop WOKE Act has to be acknowledged, too. The law, which took effect in July last year, "prohibits any teaching that could make students feel they bear personal responsibility for historic wrongs because of their race, color, sex or national origin," as well as "blocks businesses from using diversity practices or training that could make employees feel guilty for similar reasons," according to the Tallahassee Democrat. In November, federal judge Mark E. Walker paused parts of the law that restricted conversations about race in public colleges and universities, referring to the Stop WOKE Act as "positively dystopian."

The banning and Stop WOKE Act have put Florida at the forefront of enacting some of the nation's strictest laws against race-based instruction. And with this context in mind, it's understandable why it's also the leading voice against AP African American Studies. It all began last month, when the Florida Department of Education's Office of Articulation sent a letter to the College Board saying that the course was "inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value." The letter also said the course was a violation of Florida state law, likely referring to the Stop WOKE Act. This was followed up by DeSantis, who spoke on why the course was based in the state in late January.

Criticizing the contents of the course — primarily sections centered around queer theory, abolishing prisons, intersectionality, and Black Lives Matter — DeSantis said it was on the "wrong side of the line for Florida standards" while speaking at a charter school in Jacksonville. More recently, DeSantis seemed to suggest cutting ties with the College Board over the course, saying that Florida will "look to reevaluate" its relationship with the organization.

Following his remarks, the College Board released a revised version of the course, with The Hill noting that "Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory have been scrubbed from the curriculum, as have those who touch on the Black queer experience and Black feminism," and that topics like Black Lives Matter are now optional. The revision also added "Black conservatism" as a potential research topic.

Although David Coleman has said that the changes weren't because of political pressure it's hard to actually believe that, considering most of what was removed was called out by DeSantis (which his administration took credit for when the changes were announced).

With Florida banning AP African American Studies, it could embolden other states led by figures who feel similarly to DeSantis to do the same. But there's no denying that this course already has some challenges to overcome before it even makes its proper introduction to the U.S. throughout the next two years.