New England professors expressed anger and dismay on Wednesday after the College Board released a revised Advanced Placement course on African American studies that omitted certain topics and figures criticized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other conservative politicians.
The College Board, which published the new course framework to mark the first day of Black History Month, denies that politicians influenced the revisions.
In January, DeSantis blocked the course from being taught in Florida, claiming it promoted a political agenda. DeSantis, a Republican who is eyeing a possible presidential run, had called it a “woke indoctrination.”
Professors questioned the College Board’s timing of the revisions, and say that the omissions from earlier drafts parallel politicians’ top critiques.
“The sequence of events made it look as if the College Board caved to the DeSantis administration and trimmed off all the material that Florida deemed inappropriate,” said Matthew Guterl, professor of Africana Studies and American Studies at Brown University.
Guterl was among 200 professors of African American studies who signed an open letter Tuesday in defense of AP African American studies and characterized DeSantis’s comments as “censorship and a frontal attack on academic freedom.”
“Contrary to DeSantis’s claims of promoting freedom in education, he is suppressing learning in his state and limiting the freedom of Florida students to choose what they can learn,” the letter reads. “He is destroying core educational principles that should be sacrosanct to all leaders in a democratic society.”
DeSantis has previously proposed banning the teaching of critical race theory in Florida schools, and has implemented strict rules on what genres of books can be used in classrooms. More recently, DeSantis replaced New College of Florida’s board with conservative allies.
Guterl said that “contemporary issues,” including racial profiling and Black Lives Matter are now optional rather than required topics in the AP course materials that states will adopt. Also missing are several prominent scholars including Kimberle Crenshaw, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Guterl added.
“It looks to me like it’s missing core intellectual contributions to help us make sense of the world in African studies,” Guterl said.
The College Board, which did not make an official available for an interview, said in a statement that it has “time-stamped records of revisions” from Dec. 22, before Florida’s objections. The organization said that the AP Program consulted with more than 300 professors of African American studies during the development phase.
“The fact of the matter is that this landmark course has been shaped over years by the most eminent scholars in the field, not political influence,” the nonprofit said.
Some professors remain skeptical, questioning why the College Board didn’t rethink the timing of the latest announcement.
“If it were me, I wouldn’t align changes with what critics were calling for,” said Tricia Rose, professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. “[DeSantis and other critics] want to deny the current state of affairs. This emboldens them — even if it’s not true.”
Tony Affigne, a professor of Black studies at Providence College, said the College Board’s changes show a “lack of courage and a real loss of integrity by educators who should know better.”
The Florida Department of Education penned a letter on Jan. 12 to the College Board saying it would not approve the new AP course in the state because “the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
“In the future, should the College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion,” the letter read.
DeSantis later tweeted that “education is about the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of ideology or the advancement of a political agenda.”
“We want education not indoctrination,” said DeSantis, who faced criticism in September for flying 49 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in a surprise event that thrust Massachusetts into the national debate over immigration policy.
Professors interviewed for this story said that politicians’ views on academic offerings shouldn’t be a factor in such matters.
“These are politically appointed leaders and not specialists in African American history,” Rose said. “Their personal agenda should not impact the education of American citizens of any state. It’s meant to create a chill around challenging materials by stigmatizing it.”
The College Board offers an array of AP courses and exams in history, foreign language, math, science, literature, and more for high school students seeking potential college credits.