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Florida says AP class teaches critical race theory. Here's what's really in the course

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis' leadership, Florida has enacted a slew of education rules that limit teaching topics including race, and sexual orientation.
Octavio Jones
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Under Gov. Ron DeSantis' leadership, Florida has enacted a slew of education rules that limit teaching topics including race, and sexual orientation.

Florida's Department of Education has rejected an Advanced Placement course covering African American studies — saying the class indoctrinates students to "a political agenda."

"As submitted, the course is a vehicle for a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow," said Bryan Griffin, Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary.

But scholars who were involved in creating the curriculum say that's far from the truth.

"There's nothing particularly ideological about the course except that we value the experiences of African people in the United States," Christopher Tinson, the chair of the African American Studies department at Saint Louis University, told NPR.

The course is the latest addition to the AP program, which helps high school students earn college credit. The class is currently undergoing a pilot phase. Sixty schools across the U.S. were participating in that trial run, including at least one high school in Florida. But state officials have taken issue with the possibility that the course would teach about Black Lives Matter and the reparations movement.

The state's rejection of the class comes as a wave of states attempt to censor the topics of race and sexual orientation in public schools.

DeSantis has been particularly combative on this issue. In 2022, he signed the "Stop WOKE" Act, which — among other things — sets limits on how race may be taught in classrooms.

What's in the course

The purpose of the class is to introduce students to the experiences and contributions of African Americans through a variety of lenses.

"We didn't want to just focus on slavery, although slavery is a part of it," Tinson said. "We wanted to give a comprehensive view of the culture, literature, historical development, political movements, social movements."

Tinson said the course will explore the origins of the African diaspora to Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and then some. It will also examine historical trailblazers including Valerie Thomas, a scientist who invented the illusion transmitter.

He is particularly excited for students to have a fuller grasp of the Haitian revolution, which Tinson argues tends to be underrepresented in history classes compared to the American and French revolutions despite being the most successful slave revolt in world history.

What's not in the course

Among the concerns that Florida officials have raised is whether the course will teach critical race theory, the legal framework that argues racism is not just the product of individual bias, but is embedded in legal systems and policies.

"Florida rejected an AP course filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law," Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. wrote on Twitter on Friday.

"We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education," he added.

But Tinson denied accusations that the theory will be taught in the course. While the class will explore the issue of inequality, the framework itself is too advanced for high school students even in a college-level course, according to Tinson.

The College Board told NPR that the African American studies course has been nearly a decade in the making.

"The reason why this is even an important area of study is because of the historical erasures from historical records in public schools of African experiences," Tinson said. "This is one small step to resolve that gap."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: January 23, 2023 at 12:00 AM EST
An earlier version of this article contained inaccurate comparisons to other existing AP courses. AP Chinese and AP German classes focus largely on developing language skills and cultural knowledge. AP European history does not focus on one community's history and culture in the same way as AP African American studies.
Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.