Rejecting courses like AP African American Studies diminishes our history, jeopardizes our future

This piece was written and cosigned by members of the Mass Insight Advanced Placement (AP) Teachers of Color Advisory Council, where we advocate for students and advanced academic pathways through the lens of educators of color.

As testing season rolls around, millions of high school students nationwide engage in the daunting but rewarding task of taking their Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

But this year’s AP exams take place amid heated political debate on what can or cannot be taught. Through book bans and education gag orders, several states have moved to limit discussions of race in the classroom, with College Board’s AP African American Studies becoming the most recent target of backlash. 

As educators of color, we oppose recent efforts to limit the teaching of courses like AP African American Studies and similar attempts to silence academic freedom by those who do not always act with our student’s learning or best interest at heart.

We believe that these efforts are harmful to our students and communities of color, and motivated by a cynical and dishonest approach to education.

In February, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida announced plans to reject CollegeBoard’s AP African American Studies, claiming that it lacked “educational value” and violated state standards on how race can be taught in schools. While CollegeBoard has since revised the curriculum, making the study of some topics optional, some critics argue that this development caves into pressure and shortchanges students.

Banning African American history is not only a blow to education, but a direct assault on our shared past. It echoes the book burnings of the past and represents an attempt to manipulate the narrative of our nation’s past and future.

More alarmingly, Governor DeSantis’ targeting of AP African American Studies is not an isolated incident. It is part of a broader effort to politicize our learning spaces and public education, which includes efforts to ban books, whitewash history, and censor discussions on social issues in the classroom.

These efforts are not only morally reprehensible, but also pedagogically regressive, preventing the acquisition of skills and mindsets critical to the intellectual, emotional, and cognitive development of young minds.

As AP teachers of color, we know that learning about race, identity, and the full history of our country makes our children strong and resilient. It empowers them to understand and analyze diverse and multiple perspectives, form critical thoughts based on sound evidence and reasoning, demonstrate empathy, respect, and humanity, especially across differences, communicate and collaborate with those who hold conflicting views, navigate challenging emotions in a socially-emotionally healthy way, and problem-solve difficult social problems that require nuance, context, and a deference to the truth.

These skills and mindsets are critical for students’ success in the 21st century, where they will be called upon to navigate an increasingly complex and interconnected world. When we prevent our children from gaining these skills, we limit their potential. And when we allow elected officials to force an incomplete and warped version of our complicated reality, we limit our country’s potential.

As educators, we support honest, inclusive, and evidence-based practices that affirm all students, regardless of their race or background. As debates rage on, remember that doing so means teaching our complete history, which includes African American history.

AP Teachers of Color (TOC) Advisory Council members who contributed to this piece are Kimberly Frazier-Booth, Meera Goodness, Virginia Mathis, Felicia Prass, Kalimah Rahim, Shukla Sengupta, Shital Shah, and Takeru Nagayoshi, TOC Advisory Council coordinator.

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