AP African American Studies: Bending the Arc of History Toward Justice

Phoebe Pan, Online Editor-in-Chief

Would nearly as many people know that the College Board was adding AP African American Studies to its course offerings if Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hadn’t tried to cancel it before it was even a part of any curriculum? While many would celebrate the addition of the new area of study, the majority of attention toward AP African American Studies has likely stemmed from its undesired role in the latest conservative culture war. In his attempts to discredit the new course, DeSantis is instead unintentionally drawing attention to what is otherwise a welcomed new AP course.

The highly-anticipated course was officially introduced on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month. After consulting over 300 experts in the field and multiple years of development of the course, College Board officially announced the implementation of the new AP offering in the 2024-2025 school year. With a focus on essential events and figures in African American history and significant intellectual contributions of Black thought, the course is intended to introduce students to a more concentrated and in-depth view of African American history and culture. Course developers added that the curriculum emphasizes the stories of African Americans of diverse backgrounds, highlighting individuals who may be overlooked in a standard American History class. The course is especially unique in its structure, as it includes a student project section which contributes to the student’s exam score. 

While other specialized history and social studies courses exist, Dr. Nisha Kunte, who teaches Ethnic Studies at Sage Hill, explains that an AP class specifically geared toward the study of African American history could have immense intellectual benefits for students. She added that while students are presumably exposed to some important elements of Black history through their history and English classes, a year-long course focused on this topic will provide students with opportunities to potentially practice critical analysis from new perspectives. 

Currently, Sage Hill is not planning to offer AP African American Studies, Assistant Head of School for Academics Dr. Matt Balossi wrote in an email. He explains that Sage Hill’s course creation process is thorough and can take a considerable amount of time due to the necessary reviews undertaken by curriculum committees and in this case the History department. However, school officials may consider adding AP African American Studies in the near future, Balossi wrote.

Some may wonder how this controversy in Florida impacts us, students at a private school in California which isn’t even planning to offer this class in the near future. Though this issue may seem isolated and not directly relevant to our school routines, this question concerns policies behind not only what we are taught, but also how we are taught. After DeSantis’ initial attack against the new AP class, the College Board was put on the defensive and reportedly scaled back the course’s range of topics, removing subjects like the Black Lives Matter movement, slavery reparations, Black queer studies and intersectionality—how identity markers like race, class, and gender interact and inform perspectives—from the course’s required topics. Now Florida’s threats to create bad publicity for the College Board and pull funding for all AP tests have affected its testing curriculum—curriculum which could also affect us. While this concern may seem exclusive to AP African American Studies, similar challenges to AP curriculum could easily arise later on if DeSantis’ dispute with College Board sets such a precedence. What happens, if say, Texas takes issue with AP U.S. History or decides to stop offering AP World History?

Clearly, this development has dangerous implications for the future of educational standards and censorship. Additionally, DeSantis’ fight against AP African American Studies is problematic on various levels, as his rejection of this new course raises the issue of political hypocrisy. DeSantis, among other conservative leaders, claims to be a strong advocate for free speech and has condemned “cancel culture” on various occasions; however, his dispute with the College Board seems inconsistent with these stated beliefs. Likewise, his use of political power as leverage over College Board, a private nonprofit organization, seems to contradict his strong belief in small government and the independence of private entities.

DeSantis’ perspective towards the AP African American Studies course is faulty on multiple levels, as this platform is built upon assumptions toward the “standard” educational system and the nature of conventional history classes like AP U.S. History. DeSantis and his followers are attacking AP African American Studies as historically inaccurate and an instrument of indoctrination to “woke” culture, but this viewpoint assumes that “traditional” history classes are objective and eternal in their content, which we know to be untrue. History has always been told from a specific point of view, and new topics and discoveries can help us gain a more complete and comprehensive understanding.

This fear of the new AP course also suggests that AP African American Studies will replace other history courses, which is not true at all. Just as history electives like AP Psychology or AP Government require prerequisite courses, such as World History and U.S. History, AP African American Studies classes could require students to complete more standard courses before taking on this more specialized course. In fact, contrary to DeSantis’ belief, some states could make such classes the standard in coming years. Dr. Kunte mentioned that California intends to add ethnic studies courses as a graduation requirement in 2030, indicating the future of standardized education. 

While DeSantis’ attack on the College Board has obviously led to adverse effects, it has also, ironically, brought more attention to the very class that he wants to erase through this dispute. Unfortunately for the governor and those who share his view, such anti-”woke” perspectives will continue to be challenged in the coming years, as more states are implementing DEI requirements and welcoming the addition of more courses centered on the experiences of long overlooked groups. Though the College Board agreed to compromise to an extent, their resistance to political pressures could establish the AP African American Studies course as a milestone in inclusive education.