College Board Updates AP Black History Framework Following Pilot Period

The College Board has revised the recommended course material for its controversial Advanced Placement course in African American Studies. They shared an updated framework on Wednesday that mostly retains the current topics while expanding on others. The new framework offers teachers options on subject matter that has faced criticism from some conservatives.

The course was first introduced in the 2022-23 school year as part of a pilot program for high school students. It provides an interdisciplinary approach to Black history, covering historical events, figures, music, art, literature, and culture. According to the College Board, it took about ten years to develop the coursework in collaboration with over 200 educators from colleges and universities across the country.

The course has gained significant popularity, with 60 schools offering it in its first year and approximately 13,000 students from nearly 700 schools across 40 states currently enrolled for the second year, 2023-24. However, the course has also faced criticism from some right-wing individuals and institutions.

Earlier this year, Florida education officials rejected the course, claiming it lacked educational value. This decision was met with swift backlash from Black leaders in Florida and beyond. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, has been vocal about his opposition to teaching about racism. Arkansas also does not grant credit for taking the course.

While there are opponents, many students have expressed a positive view of the course. Brandi Waters, the senior director of AP African American Studies at the College Board, stated that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with students describing the course as a transformative experience.

“The course has had a profound impact on students, parents, and educators,” Waters told USA TODAY. “Students are enthusiastic about learning new things and exploring topics that resonate with their lives today.”

In response to the course, some retired teachers have returned to the classroom to teach AP African American Studies, and administrators and coaches who don’t typically work in classrooms have also committed to teaching the course. Waters added that the course has sparked meaningful conversations between parents and students, which many families have welcomed.

What does the AP African American History course cover?

The course, which allows students to earn college credit based on their performance on an end-of-year test, begins with a comprehensive examination of the African continent from historical, cultural, and anthropological perspectives. It explores ancient civilizations, art, languages, and geography, as well as the African diaspora, trade, Indigenous religions, and spirituality.

The second unit focuses on the TransAtlantic slave trade, including trade routes, forced migration, slave auctions, and the harrowing journey endured by enslaved individuals aboard cargo ships. It also delves into resistance aboard slave ships and anti-slavery movements.

The unit delves into the economics of slavery and the slave trade, as well as rebellions, the development of African American culture and identity, and the experiences of enslaved people in Brazil, Haiti, and among Native American and other Indigenous communities.

The course also covers the Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction, with an expanded emphasis on Black family reunification and the Freedmen’s Bureau. It addresses the rollback of Reconstruction-era advancements, the rise of white supremacy movements, and the inception of Jim Crow laws. Additional materials include sources that explore Black fraternal organizations, the founding of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and the impact of music, film, and art on Black identity.

The “Movement and Debates” unit includes new sections on anticolonialism, rising Black political movements, and the contributions of African Americans in World War II, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the GI Bill. The unit also examines institutional and systemic racism, including redlining, school segregation, and housing discrimination. The Civil Rights movement is explored through the perspectives of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, Amiri Baraka, and Maya Angelou. The course also covers the Black Panthers, Black feminists, the emerging Black middle class, and various art forms such as the blues, R&B, hip-hop, and breakdancing.

What about topics like Black Lives Matter?

After completing the main coursework, teachers have a week for “further explorations” where they can choose among topics such as Contemporary Grassroots Organizing (including the Black Lives Matter movement), The Reparations Debate, Incarceration and Abolition, Black Women Writers and Filmmakers, African American Art, Black Foodways and Culinary Traditions, and Local History.

The coursework also references former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality.

One of the objectives of the course is to familiarize students with the various strategies African American communities have employed to combat inequality and systemic marginalization, both locally and internationally.

“We focused on including materials that college professors deemed essential for an introductory course,” explained Brandi Waters of the College Board. Multiple revisions were made to the materials, which were compared with syllabi from college professors across the country.

Waters added, “What makes African American history exciting is that so much of it is still evolving.” New perspectives are challenging historical assumptions, while greater attention is being paid to diverse viewpoints. Students, parents, and educators were also consulted to identify what was missing from the course, resulting in the inclusion of topics like local history and the role of Black journalists and African American newspapers in shaping culture, perceptions, and policies.

Addressing criticisms, Holly Stepp, the College Board’s media relations representative, highlighted that the organization makes the frameworks for all its AP courses, including AP African American Studies, publicly available. This transparency allows parents, educators, and students to form their own opinions about the course.

Banned in Florida but popular in other states: Demand for AP African American Studies curriculum surges

Who is taking the course and why?

According to data from the College Board, 45% of students enrolled in AP African American History had not taken any other AP course. Additionally, 80% of currently enrolled students expressed a strong likelihood of pursuing African American studies in the future, while 79% indicated they would consider enrolling in more AP courses and college-level courses after completing this course.

A large crowd gathered in the Florida Capitol fourth floor rotunda for the 'Stop the Black Attack' in January. Attorney Ben Crump threatened to file a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration over the ban of an Advanced Placement course on African American Studies in Florida high schools on behalf of three Leon County school students.

“Courses like this have the potential to lay the groundwork for students to build successful futures,” said Stepp.

“We hope this course ignites students’ curiosity to pursue further learning,” added Waters.

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