By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – An African American studies course for U.S. high school students that was released on Wednesday does not include material that Florida’s conservative governor said pushed a liberal agenda, the latest development in a fierce debate about politics, education and censorship.
The College Board, a non-profit that administers Advanced Placement courses that help high school students gain college credits, said changes to its pilot version of the course, which was leaked last fall, were made weeks before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted its contents and forbade it being taught in his state.
The board said the final version of the course, released on the first day of Black History Month in the United States, had been under development for nearly a year, reflected input from hundreds of experts, and did not bend to anyone’s political will.
“No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it,” the College Board said in a statement.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, was among scholars who praised the curriculum in the College Board statement.
But critics said the final version had been stripped of or downplayed topics that drew criticism from DeSantis.
A Reuters comparison of the curriculum released Wednesday to the leaked material dated February 2022 shows that work by some writers and scholars, such as Yale professor Roderick Ferguson, best-selling writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and Columbia law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, were no longer cited.
Studying the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice and an end to police violence was optional instead of part of the course. “Black conservatism” appeared as a possible research topic in the version released Wednesday, but not in the leaked material.
“We are now in the dismaying situation where the governor and conservative forces have determined the parameters of Black history and African American Studies in Florida,” Ferguson, who writes on Black queer issues, said in an email.
On Tuesday, more than 200 African American studies faculty members from dozens of universities published an open letter defending the course and expressing their “outrage at the efforts of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to delegitimize the AP’s pilot curriculum in African American Studies.”
“This is censorship and a frontal attack on academic freedom,” the professors wrote. “We categorically reject DeSantis’s autocratic claim to knowing what college-level material should be available in an AP African American Studies course.”
DeSantis had no comment Wednesday, saying he had not yet reviewed what the College Board had released.
The governor in January said the course would not be allowed in his state. DeSantis and other Florida officials accused the lessons of being “indoctrination” for including Black queer studies, Black Lives Matter, reparations, and the abolishment of prisons.
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre, calling Florida’s rejection “incomprehensible,” said last month the action was of a piece with earlier moves by DeSantis, including banning teaching young children about LGBTQ issues.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)