Revised AP African American studies course erases critical history, says UCLA professor

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Brian Hardzinski

“This is deeper than an AP course. This is about eliminating any discussion that might be critical of the United States of America, which is a dangerous thing for democracy,” says Robin D.G. Kelley, UCLA history professor. Photo by Shutterstock.

The College Board has announced it’s revised some of the curriculum in its new AP African American studies course. The move comes in the wake of  heavy criticism from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He banned the class after the release of the draft curriculum that included modern topics such as mass incarceration, critical race theory, and queer life. 

In a written statement, the College Board says the course “has been shaped over years by the most eminent scholars in the field, not political influence.”

DeSantis says the teachings violate a new state law known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” which limits instruction around issues of race and sexual orientation. The College Board’s adjustments also drop several Black writers, including bell hooks, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Robin D.G. Kelley.

Robin D.G. Kelley, history professor at UCLA, says he doesn’t feel bad about his work being dropped. 

“They dropped all secondary sources, they removed any scholarly texts. And the argument was … they wanted to avoid what they called canonization. But … the official reason … was that most AP courses don't include a list of secondary sources, they leave it up to the teachers to choose.” 

He says the College Board minimizes contemporary history in its revised curriculum. 

“When you look at the 234-page curriculum, it moves up to the Black Panther Party in the 1970s. And then it leaps into what I would consider to be a success story of Black participation in politics, the accumulation of wealth, divides in the middle class, Condoleezza Rice speaking at the Republican National Convention, Colin Powell, Barack Obama. And then Afrofuturism, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me. But that is the end point.” 

By removing modern writers like bell hooks, Kelley says the board downplays issues such as police violence and mass incarceration from the curriculum. 

“These were all things that concerned not just African Americans, but concerned anyone seeking racial justice. And so bias scholarship emerged in response to that, trying to understand, for example, why is it that we can have civil rights legislation and Black elected officials in what appears to be actual power, and yet these things still happen?”

Kelley says these contemporary subjects are optional instead. “I'm not saying that the attacks from Ron DeSantis or the right were the reasons why the curriculum changed. I can't say because I didn't work on it. What I can say is that the optics look really bad because it is a capitulation. … I’ve been teaching history for 36 years, and I’ve never known any colleague, at least in my field, that said anything that's contemporary is off-limits, because contemporary is history. What happened between the killing of Trayvon Martin and today? That's critical history.” 

He says students will suffer the most from the change.

“This new AP course was resurrected after the killing of George Floyd and people in the street saying, ‘We need something … to help us understand. Now.’ And so if that's the objective of the course, then you're going to run right into controversial issues, because this is what we're living in. The difference is now … their state legislatures, governors, people in power … have the capacity and ability to basically change our curriculum.”

He continues, “This is deeper than an AP course. This is about eliminating any discussion that might be critical of the United States of America, which is a dangerous thing for democracy.”