Within the Revised College Board African American Studies Curriculum

Demonstrators 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 are important. queer studies.

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

The course covers a dizzying array of topics, from the early West African empires to the transatlantic slave trade, the Great Migration, and Afrofuturism. But a comparison between a February 2022 draft of the framework and the final version shows that many of the revisions refer to the latest and most contemporary of the course’s four units, titled “Movements and Debates.”

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Trevor Packer, who directs the Advanced Placement program for the College Board, said the revisions were not made due to political pressure, but after receiving feedback from teachers and college professors. He worried that the pilot course leaned too much toward contemporary theorists, he said, and didn’t focus enough on foundational 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.

academic concepts

The February 2022 draft highlighted a number of academic concepts that have been targeted by conservative activists. These include intersectionality, the idea first put forward by noted legal scholar Kimberlé W. Crenshaw that race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identities overlap and shape individuals’ experiences of the world; feminism, a movement centered on the recognition of the black female experience; 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 capstone project. The College Board emphasizes the importance of these projects, which are intended to take up three weeks of class time and will count toward 20% of the student’s final AP grade.

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

“Any scholar in the field of African American studies is appropriate to study in this course; no thought is too bold, no idea is too controversial,” he said. “We would regret if a state regulates or blocks students from such projects or any secondary source material of their individual and academically free choice.”

Still, Crenshaw’s name does not appear in the final frame. She is also a key thinker in the field of critical race theory, which posits that racism is embedded in the fabric of the American legal system. While CRT is rarely explicitly taught outside of universities, the term itself has become a fixation 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.

Bringing graduate level concepts to high schools can be politically risky 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. by some organizations 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 explicitly designed to expose students to college-level concepts.

Women and Feminism

A unit on “The Black Feminist Movement and Feminism,” which previously highlighted intersectionality, was renamed “Black Women and Movements in the Twentieth Century.” While the term “intersectionality” is now eschewed, a similar concept is retained under the heading “Overlapping Dimensions of Black Life.” The new framework looks at 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, remains in the frame.

Still, innovative black writers and left-wing activists like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Alice Walker, who were included in the 2022 draft, have since been cut.

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

Black Lives Matter and Criminal Justice

An entire unit on “the origins, mission, and global influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Movement for Black Lives” was removed 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 abolition,” which was 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 incarceration is, in some ways, an extension of the control systems established under slavery and segregation.

Alexander and his ideas, which are divisive even among some left-leaning academics, were removed from the final version of the course. The revised framework suggests “crime, criminal justice, and incarceration” as optional project themes.

LGBTQ issues

“Black Queer Studies” was a focus in the 2022 draft, and it named three prominent academics: Cathy Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Chicago and an expert on race, gender and sexuality; Roderick Ferguson, a Yale University professor who has written about gay rights from the point of view 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 dropped from the current version of the curriculum. The new frame makes a passing reference to mid-century civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who faces discrimination for being gay. He briefly discusses black lesbians who feel out of place in both the civil rights and women’s movements, which were led by black male and white female figures.


Arguments in favor of reparations for slavery were highlighted in last year’s draft. 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 article focused on the living legacies of sharecropping, redlining, and other forms of economic discrimination against African-Americans.

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

The AP Course vs. Current K-12 Curricula

The curriculum also represents, in many ways, a leap forward from the current state of Black history in the K-12 classroom. Many states do not require schools to teach about red lines 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 go into detail about thinkers like Marcus Garvey, whom the College Board singles out in a unit on black internationalism.

The College Board is also calling attention to black resistance to slavery and discrimination, including a new section on black women’s tactics to fight 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 victimizations, with stories of black courage, organization, and strength eluded.

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

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