College Board releases African American Studies course framework after DeSantis criticism

The College Board released the official framework of a new Advanced Placement course on African American studies. It comes after criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who said the initial curriculum violated a state law limiting teachings on race in public schools. David Coleman and Brandi Waters of the College Board joined Geoff Bennett to discuss the course and the controversy.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The College Board today released the official framework of a new advanced placement course on African American studies.

    It comes after criticism from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other Republicans. Last month, DeSantis said Florida would not participate in the new AP course, saying the initial curriculum violated the state's so-called Stop WOKE Act that limits teaching on race in public schools.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL):

    This course on Black history, what are — what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids.

    And so when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that's a political agenda.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    We're joined now by David Coleman, chief executive officer of the College Board, and Brandi Waters, director of AP African American studies for the College Board.

    Welcome to you both.

    And, David Coleman, the College Board revised its framework for this AP African American studies course, effectively downplaying or removing some of the same information that Ron DeSantis and other Republicans criticized.

    Did the College Board change the course offering to address conservatives' concerns?

  • David Coleman, Chief Executive Officer, The College Board:

    No. The revisions were complete by the end of December, far before this public discussion.

    And what the revisions were — based only on two sources, the feedback from professors and students and teachers in the pilot course, and returning to principles that are true of every single AP course.

    I know this has become controversial and political, so I want to be more than clear. In no AP course, whether it's AP English, AP U.S. history, Japanese culture, Spanish culture, do we require a specific list of secondary articles that all students must read. So we returned to that principle.

    And so it meant that the secondary articles that were experiment within the course — so, for example, Skip Gates' essay on 40 million ways of being Black, whatever they were, were not included in what is the final official course framework.

    That's been politicized now, even though it's what we do in every AP course. We also added an in-depth project where students can explore secondary sources in more detail. And may I just say one last thing? I want to be rather clear. Students and teachers have the freedom to explore any secondary sources they wish, including all that are under discussion.

    We just stopped mandating a specific list of them, as we don't do in any AP course.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So, to press the point, last month, Ron DeSantis, other Republicans, the Florida Board of Education said that they rejected this course because it included things like a focus on the Black reparations movement and Black queer theory.

    Looking at the course revisions, lessons on those two specific things are gone, and what's included instead, Black conservatism is now offered as an idea for a research project. There are people who will look at that and see more than a coincidence.

  • David Coleman:

    To be clear, what has been added in the course as well, just to set the record straight on the matter of gay America, is, you may have noticed, I hope, a new section, which explores the contributions of Bayard Rustin and the struggles he had as a gay leader of the civil rights movement.

    That was added, as are the contributions of Pauli Murray, who's an extraordinary figure, who contributed, essentially, as you know, to Brown vs. Board of Education, as well as later victories. There's a new section on Black lesbians and how they did not feel comfortable in either the white-led women's movement or the male Black-led civil rights movement, and the new paths they formed.

    I'm just trying to say there's a remarkable engagement with Black life and how it intersects with the gay community. So I believe we're actually having a deep misunderstanding here as to what's in the course. So I really asked you to look again. You pointed out one project on Black conservatism, which there is.

    There's also a project on intersectionality and mentions of Black experience. There's also a topic on gay life in Black communities, just like you're asking me about. This course truly allows students to inquire deeply into reparations. There's another topic you may have noticed on reparations that allows students to dig deeply into the reparations movement.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Brandi Waters, this course has been in the works, it's been in development for more than a decade, as I understand it.

    What was the overarching goal in creating it?

    Brandi Waters, Director of AP African American Studies, The College Board: So when we started to explore this course over a decade ago, it was conceptualized as an African American history course.

    And we talked to a lot of different groups in higher ed to see if there was some interest in moving forward with that course. Our research showed that, in the last 10 years, this field has exploded. And the appropriate introductory course is actually one that aligns with the entire discipline, African American studies.

    So, in the last few years is really when we shifted to reimagine the course as one that reflects this field, this interdisciplinary field that's really based in rigorous source analysis and argumentation. So it's not just a history class, but it does aim to weave parts of history, geography, the arts all together, so that students really walk away with that interdisciplinary lens.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    And, Brandi, we are in a moment where the teaching of race and equity has — it's become a political minefield.

    What's your response to those who say that teaching contextualized lessons about this country's racial history, that that's inherently political? You heard Ron DeSantis say that it's not education, it's indoctrination. What's your response to something like that?

  • Brandi Waters:

    I just look to the framework, which really focuses on these primary sources.

    What's really great about this course is that we are connecting students to sources that they usually wouldn't find until they get to college. So, they have an opportunity to look at things from the Amistad case, or to slave codes, the actual written documents.

    So I think what's really important is that students are actually looking at materials from history. They're looking at works of art and coming to their own conclusions. But I'm sure David also has thought of this as well.

  • David Coleman:

    I just hope you will look at it and see the sweeping and in-depth account of slavery and its cruelties, which is bracing, to be honest, and fierce.

    And as it goes through unit two and unit three, nothing is historically avoided. So, if it is true that what political leaders have said — and I fear it might be — has chilled classrooms and made teachers worried, can they teach the truth, can they include gay Americans, can they include the real history that happened, this course says, yes, you can.

    This course says it's all within bounds. And it says that that historical contextualized study is a matter of fact, evidence and shared experience. And the College Board insists that that should be allowed everywhere in this country.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    David, if the Florida Department of Education rejects the revised AP African American studies course, how will the College Board respond?

  • David Coleman:

    The College Board will be very saddened by that decision to refuse to enable teachers and students to encounter the facts and evidence of African American history and culture, but we will not, sir, change this framework.

    This framework is an honest, far-reaching exploration where no one is excluded.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    There has been some suggestion that the College Board should remove all of its AP offerings from Florida if this revised course is rejected.

    Is that something that's in the realm of possibility? Is that something that the College Board could even do?

  • David Coleman:

    That is not something I have discussed with my board at this time.

    But I do think it would be tragic for any state. I mean this, by the way. Young people need and want terribly to encounter the truth of our country's history and to examine directly cultural achievements. And this course gives them the freedom. I want to be rather clear. They can read any author they wish. As they do their project work, they can dig into any theory they think, as spicy and daring as that is. The only limits are their own imagination, and it will count towards their AP exam score.

    This course does enable a freedom that we think is valuable.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    David Coleman is chief executive officer of the College Board, and Brandi Waters is director of AP African American studies for the College Board.

    Thank you both.

  • David Coleman:

    Thank you.

  • Brandi Waters:

    Thank you.

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