The debate over AP courses is closer than that in the high school classroom. Education is at the center of public debate, and the College Board’s decision to try to create a curriculum about one of the nation’s most pressing topics — racial history in America — is likely to be controversial. If anything, the contradictions in these studies reinforce the fact that the United States is a country that cannot agree on its subject matter, particularly the troubled history of Black America.
In terms of politics, the College Board seemed to be out of politics. In his 234-page revised edition, the contents of Africa, slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights movement remain the same. But studying contemporary topics — including Black Lives Matter, activism, poverty and the debate over reparations — has been downplayed. Courses are no longer part of the exam, and are only offered on a list of required project options.
And even this list, according to local laws, “can be revised by regions and regions.”
The authors and experts who were dismissed include Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a professor of law at Columbia, who criticizes his work as “the foundation of the theory of extreme competition”; Roderick Ferguson, a Yale professor who has written about troubled communities; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer who has made a case for reparations for slavery. Gone, too, are bell hooks, a writer who created conversations about race, feminism and class.
AP exams are deeply entrenched in American education. Students take courses and tests to demonstrate their academic ability when applying to college. Many four-year colleges and universities offer college credit to students who score well on AP exams. And more than a million high school students graduating in 2021 took at least one AP exam.
But the failure of the test raises questions about whether the African American Studies course, as it has been reformed, fulfills its purpose of simulating college courses, which often expect students to analyze secondary sources and take up controversial topics.
Chester E. Finn, Jr., director of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, said the College Board made a smart move by not eliminating “effective classes,” but instead making them optional.
“DeSantis likes to make noise and is running for president,” Finn said. “But they’ve been getting feedback from all over the 60 schools that have been trying this. I think it’s the way to deal with the United States at this point, not just DeSantis. Some of these things they might want to teach in New York, but not in Dallas. Or in San Francisco but not St. Petersburg.”