For decades, many American high schools have offered rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) courses in subjects such as art history, calculus, environmental science, and European history to their students. This fall, 60 schools will debut a new option: AP African American Studies.
The new course, which schools are testing in a pilot program, is a significant step toward legitimizing African American studies in the public eye, says historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., who helped create the curriculum.
“Nothing is more dramatic than having the College Board launch an AP course in a field, which means maximum acceptance and maximum academic legitimacy,” says Gates. Weather Olivia B. Waxman from the magazine.
The AP program, which is overseen by the College Board, allows high school students to take college-level classes, which could then count toward credit at their higher education institutions. About 70 percent of high schools in the United States offer at least one AP course.
Although the College Board has not released the new course curriculum, instructors participating in the pilot program have spoken with Weather and other posts about what’s included. The course examines 400 years of contributions by Africans and their descendants to the United States, according to Weather. That means Spanish conquistador Juan Garrido, the first known African to reach North America, is covered, as is the importance of Marvel. Black Panther. Intersectionality, which refers to how various systems of oppression overlap, will also be a key tenet of the class.
Participants in the pilot program will take a test, but they will not receive grades or college credit this year, according to the New York Times‘Anemone Hartocollis. (The pilot program is designed to give colleges time to develop policies that allow students to count the course on their transcripts.)
The class has been in the works for a decade. But now it comes in the middle of a culture war over what students should learn about race and racism in the classroom. In the past year, attacks by political conservatives on critical race theory have reached a fever pitch. Developed by scholars in the 1970s, critical race theory is a theoretical framework that looks at systemic racism and the intersection of race, society, and law. Although critical race theory is not typically taught in high school, the right has embraced the term as a catchall for discussion of race and racism in the classroom.
A report by free speech advocacy group PEN America found that 36 states have introduced 137 “educational gag order” bills, defined as “state legislative efforts to restrict teaching on topics such as race, gender, American history and LGBTQ+ Identities in K-12 and Higher Education”—this year only. Earlier this summer, for example, the Oklahoma State Board of Education downgraded the accreditation status of two school districts accused of violating one of these laws.
Gates says that the attacks on critical race theory are misguided.
“AP African American Studies is not CRT,” he says. Weather. “It is not the 1619 Project. It is a conventional, rigorously vetted academic approach to a vibrant field of study, half a century old in American academia and much older, of course, in historically black colleges and universities.”
However, that does not mean critical race theory and the 1619 Project, a New York Times storytelling initiative that reframes American history through the lens of racism, beginning with the arrival of the first enslaved Africans; it would not be mentioned in an AP African American studies course.
Talking with him Times, Gates says that critical race theory and the 1619 Project could be covered in a larger unit that “teaches different theories of the African-American experience.” He adds: “I’m certainly not advocating the use of those theories as interpretive frameworks for the course itself.”
Marlon Williams-Clark, a social studies instructor at a charter school in Tallahassee, Fla., began teaching the pilot class in August. Last year, the Florida Board of Education banned schools from teaching critical race theory.
“You can see that there is thirst [students] I have to get this knowledge,” Williams-Clark tells Elaine Quijano and Lana Zak of CBS News. “I think this course will be the precursor to other stories about…marginalized people.”
Next year, the College Board intends to expand the pilot program to 200 schools. For the 2024 school year, it plans to offer AP African American Studies to interested high schools across the country.