Students worry Texas will ban AP African American studies course, following Florida

As seen on the Dallas Morning News. 

High school senior Kenneth Haggerty has learned about the development and massacre of Black Wall Street, the in-depth history of prominent Black figures like Malcolm X and the influences of hip-hop music.

The Advanced Placement African American studies course he’s in encourages conversations, debates, collaboration and hands-on assignments on topics often left out in “the regular curriculum,” he said.

Haggerty, a student at KIPP Oak Cliff Academy, now worries that the class could be at stake in Texas if Florida’s ban of the course has a domino effect across other states.

“It’s stripping them away from a different perspective or the other side,” he said. “I just don’t feel like that is fair.”

KIPP Oak Cliff Academy is one of three Texas campuses, including another in the Dallas area, piloting the course this school year before it’s launched on a broader scale nationwide, according to the Texas Education Agency.

But last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education rejected the AP course, claiming it violates state law and “lacks educational value,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The College Board unveiled its outline for the new course this month, but many criticized the organization for caving under the pressure of hard-line conservatives by watering down the course. The curriculum has been in the making for more than a decade.

The names of multiple Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, as well as discussions on the queer experience, Black feminism, mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter, were all gutted from the curriculum, The New York Times first reported.

In a response to what they called “misinformation,” College Board officials clarified that the recently released framework “is only the outline of the course” and that such subjects are “optional topics in the pilot course.”

“Our lack of clarity allowed the narrative to arise that political forces had ‘downgraded’ the role of these contemporary movements and debates in the AP class,” the College Board’s statement continues.

During a recent class at KIPP, “Candy Rain” by Soul for Real played as students streamed in to find their seats. A corner of the classroom boasts posters of Black and Latino singers, such as Tyler the Creator, Kali Uchis and BROCKHAMPTON.

Throughout class, students discussed the different periods of Malcolm X’s life. Their teacher — who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the civil rights activist’s name and face — asked them to elaborate on the significance of the years.

Books were stacked on the teacher’s desk, including Chicano! by F. Arturo Rosales, An African American and Latinx History of the United States by Paul Ortiz and In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

Students seeing themselves in lessons is part of a well-rounded, full experience at schools, said Wauneta Vann, KIPP Oak Cliff Academy’s school leader.

The charter campus — which is nestled within Paul Quinn College, a historically Black school — is made up of 335 students, of which about 56% are Hispanic and 40% are African American. School officials are looking into offering an AP Mexican American studies course in the future.

Vann compared the class’s curriculum to the standards of college-level history courses. Students develop “higher level thinking skills” to analyze, pull meaning and make arguments, she noted.

“It holds space for them to learn history that traditionally we don’t get to dig really deep into,” Vann, 38, said.

Texas has its own statewide African American history course — modeled after a Dallas ISD class — but students aren’t able to earn college credit as they can with AP courses.

Last school year, more than 7,600 students were enrolled in the state’s elective course in 64 districts, according to the TEA.

State Board of Education member Aicha Davis, a Democrat who represents Dallas-Fort Worth, worked with DISD officials to create the course in Texas.

Davis is “willing to fight” — like she did in 2019 — for the new AP course in Texas because she knows “there’s a hunger for that knowledge.”

“There’s so much value in the course,” Davis said. “I would hate to take that opportunity away because of politics.”

Other states could follow Florida’s lead as Arkansas, Virginia, North Dakota and Mississippi officials plan on reviewing the new course to find anything that may conflict with their policies or laws restricting the teaching of race, according to The Washington Post.

Additional topics that no longer appear in the final AP course materials include reparations and ideas proposed by contemporary theorists, such as womanism — a movement that focuses on the Black, female experience first coined by Alice Walker in 1979.

The College Board believes all students should be able to take the course, “regardless of where they live,” College Board spokesperson Jerome White said in a statement.

“Our commitment to AP African American Studies is unwavering,” White said. “This course will be the most rigorous, cohesive and widely available immersion that high school students have ever had in the discipline.”

In 2021, Texas banned critical race theory from public schools. The academic theory probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism, such as in education, housing or criminal justice. Many conservatives have conflated the theory with equity or diversity efforts in schools.

Then in September, Texas delayed revamping social studies lessons after conservative groups put pressure on the State Board of Education amid heated debates over what children learn about history.

The AP African American studies class features information that allows students to explore moments in history that are often glossed over or not discussed at all in traditional history courses.

Davis worries about a “gap in learning” should the curriculum be rejected or watered down.

“We’re now taking those pieces out because some people are uncomfortable with them,” she said. “Students are ready to tackle those subjects and talk about it and build those greater understandings.”

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