Within the College Board’s African American Studies Reformed Curriculum

A protester during a Black Lives Matter protest in Manhattan following the death of George Floyd, June 2, 2020. (Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times)

A protester during a Black Lives Matter protest in Manhattan following the death of George Floyd, June 2, 2020. (Demetrius Freeman/The New York Times)

Compensation. Black Lives Matter. Queer Studies.

These are just some of the concepts that the College Board included in a pilot program for its Advanced Placement course in African American Studies, but which do not appear in the final course materials, released Wednesday. The Gov announced Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican with presidential ambitions, previously said he would ban the draft-based curriculum.

The course covers a fascinating range of topics, from early West African empires to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Great Migration and Afro-futurism. But a comparison of the February 2022 draft of the framework and the final version shows that many of the revisions relate to the last and most contemporary of the course’s four units, titled “Movements and Debates.”

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Trevor Packer, who heads the Advanced Placement program for the College Board, said the revisions were not made because of political pressure, but after feedback from teachers and college professors. They were concerned that the pilot course was weighted too heavily towards contemporary theorists, he said, and was not focused enough on underlying history, such as the ancient Nubian civilization.

Here are some of the changes, as well as a review of how the new course differs from standard treatments of Black history in American high schools.

Scholarly Concepts

The February 2022 draft highlighted several scholarly concepts that conservative activists have focused on. These include intersectionality, the idea first laid out by noted legal scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw that race, class, gender, sexuality and other identities overlap and shape individuals’ experience of the world; womanism, a movement aimed at recognizing the experience of Black women; and queer studies.

Many of those terms have been removed.

In the current version, “intersectionality” is mentioned only once, as an example of a topic for an optional final project. The College Board is emphasizing the importance of these projects, which are intended to take three weeks of class time and count for 20% of the student’s final AP score.

In a written statement, the College Board said that given the structure of the course, teachers and students would have the latitude to make their own class.

“Any scholar in the field of African-American studies is suitable to study this course — no idea is too expensive, no idea is too controversial,” he said. “We would regret it if a state were to control or prevent students from such projects or from any secondary subject of their choice and academically.”

Still, Crenshaw’s name does not appear in the final frame. She is also a leading thinker in the field of critical race theory, which asserts that racism is embedded in the fabric of the American legal system. Although CRT is rarely explicitly taught outside of universities, the term itself is a point of contention for many conservatives, who oppose K-12 schools emphasizing racism and other forms of discrimination.

Neither version of the AP African American studies curriculum mentioned critical race theory.

Introducing graduate-level concepts into high schools can be politically very nice even in progressive contexts. When the state of California released a draft ethnic studies curriculum in 2019 that focused heavily on the four groups considered part of university ethnic studies departments — African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans — there was outrage from some organizations that representing American Jews, Hindus. and other minority groups. The state chose to review the document.

But Advanced Placement differs from other high school programs in that it is expressly designed to expose students to college-level concepts.

Women and Feminism

A unit on “The Feminist Movement and the Terrible Woman,” which previously emphasized intersectionality, was renamed “Black Women and Movements in the 20th Century.” Although the term “transliving” is now eschewed, a similar concept remains under the heading of “Overlapping Dimensions of Black Life.” The new framework discusses Gwendolyn Brooks and Mari Evans as writers whose work explored gender and class alongside race. And the Combahee River Collective, a key second-wave Black feminist group, is still in the frame.

Still, Black women writers and pioneering left-wing activists such as bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and Alice Walker, who were included in the 2022 draft, have since been canceled.

College Board Packer noted that the decision to move the course from prescription also left the work of less controversial African American studies scholars, such as Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Henry Louis Gates Jr., out of the final framework. . today’s secondary sources.

Black Lives Matter and Criminal Justice

An entire unit on “the origin, mission and global impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Movement for Black Lives” has been deleted from the 2022 framework. The term Black Lives Matter does not appear in the current version of the curriculum.

Last year’s draft also included a unit on “incarceration and extermination,” heavily influenced by the work of Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow.” Alexander is a writer and civil rights activist known for her argument that today’s mass prisons are in some ways an extension of the systems of control established under slavery and segregation.

Alexander and his ideas, which are divided even among some leftist students, were removed from the final version of the course. The revised framework recommends “crime, criminal justice and imprisonment” as optional project topics.

LGBTQ topics

The 2022 draft focused on “Black Queer Studies,” and cited three prominent scholars: Cathy Cohen, a University of Chicago political scientist and expert on race, gender, and sexuality; Roderick Ferguson, a professor at Yale University who has written about gay rights through the lens of race and class; and E. Patrick Johnson, founder and director of the Black Arts Initiative at Northwestern University.

The term “queer studies” and those individual names have been deleted from the current version of the curriculum. The new framework references mid-century civil rights leader Bayard Rustin when he faced discrimination because he was gay. It briefly discusses Black lesbians feeling out of place in both the civil rights and women’s movements, which were dominated by black men and white women.


Last year’s draft emphasized arguments in favor of reparations for slavery. He cited HR 40, a congressional bill to study reparations, and the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a journalist and author who in 2014 published “The Case for Reparations,” a groundbreaking essay in The Atlantic. That piece focused on the living legacies of apportionment, redistricting and other forms of economic discrimination against Black Americans.

But the term “compensation” appears only once in the final version of the curriculum, as an example of an optional project topic. Coates’ name does not appear.

The AP Course vs Current K-12 Curriculum

The syllabus also represents, in many ways, a step forward from the current state of Black History in the K-12 classroom. Many states do not require schools to teach about reform or discrimination against African American veterans in the administration of federal benefits through the GI Bill, both of which are emphasized in the AP course. Few standard high school history textbooks detail thinkers like Marcus Garvey, who College Board highlights in a unit on Black Internationalism.

The College Board also calls attention to Black resistance against slavery and discrimination, including a new article on the tactics of Black women to fight back against rape and sexual exploitation under slavery. Critics of the American curriculum have long complained that African American history is taught primarily as a series of tragedies and victims, with less stories of Black courage, organization and strength.

Examples of Black achievement are often limited to civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and Harlem Renaissance figures like Langston Hughes. In contrast, the AP syllabus highlights figures such as musician and actress Janelle Monáe, early heart surgeon Daniel Hale Williams, and Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped lead the development of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

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