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An African American studies course is now banned in Florida schools

Florida's Department of Education has decided to block the state's schools from participating in an AP African American Studies pilot program.
Posted at 8:43 PM, Jan 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-25 07:57:23-04

Marlon Williams-Clark is a Florida social studies teacher participating in the first-ever advanced placement African American studies course — or at least he was. 

"You can’t talk about U.S. history without talking about Black people. It’s just too connected," Williams-Clark said.  

Under Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the state’s Department of Education decided to end participation. 

In a letter to the College Board, which administers AP courses, the state officials wrote: "as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value should college board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion." 

In the letter, the state did not provide any specific examples from the curriculum. 

The course launched this fall by the College Board as a pilot program — meaning the curriculum can be changed and updated. It is an elective students choose to take it. This one covers the history of African people. It includes African American contributions to America from uplifting and cultural to slavery and reconstruction. 

"So we look at the Bantu Migration and how that affected different populations, different West African kingdoms, and other important kingdoms and what was happening in Africa prior to European arrival. And then we'll segway into going talking about colonization and the Transatlantic Slave Trade and all of that and move over into the western hemisphere," he said. 

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Florida’s decision to ban the AP's course on African American studies comes less than a year after the state passed HB 7, dubbed the "Stop W.O.K.E. Act." 

"No one is trying to washout or erase history," said Sen. Manny Diaz. 

The bill comes amid criticism of a concept called "critical race theory" which argues U.S. law and institutions were designed to maintain privileges for White people harming people of color. 

The Stop W.O.K.E. Act prohibits any instruction that would make a person believe they must feel "guilt" based on their race or sex. But it’s not clear if this is the law the state is accusing the course of violating. 

"We send our students to school to learn. To be thinkers. Not to be told what to think," Diaz said. 

The AP course was crafted over the past decade and is still in its pilot phase. Its director is Brandi Waters, who appeared at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival in 2021, discussing her plans for the course. 

"I believe that this course can benefit all students but what happens when Black students enter an African American studies classroom is they have the opportunity to think about their history, their past, their present and their potential in a way that's unfettered from these visions that are so fragmented of who we are and who we should be." Waters said. "They get to step into this kind of intellectual genealogy that has been hard won by black scholars in the last few years." 

Scripps News asked for more details on what’s in the curriculum. The College Board gave us a statement, which said in part, "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. We will publicly release the updated course framework when it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools."