Why Students Deserve a Rigorous AP African American Studies Curriculum
There are more than 3 million students enrolled in AP courses, many of whom — regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender — will be impacted by the decision by the College Board to exclude important topics from the Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum. This denies them of the opportunity to learn about the complex history and recent events that have taken place in the U.S.
Of course, an African American Studies class is an exciting and long-overdue addition to the high school course catalog (where it is being offered). But diluted coursework is a punch in the gut to an already unjust educational system, where students of color are denied educational opportunities, where students are taught by teachers and texts that are not representative of our country’s diversity, and where the honest teaching of history and current events is under attack in many places. Black and Latino students are often shut out of advanced placement courses, despite demonstrating readiness and interest. And even though more than half of U.S. students are students of color, fewer than 1 in 5 teachers are people of color, the very same people who, if hired, could incorporate more diverse subject matter and pedagogies into the classroom.
As it stands, the final AP course framework allots students to explore topics in greater depth through an optional individual project. While individual research projects driven by students’ interests can be a powerful way to increase motivation and engagement in the classroom, it should not be at the expense of the formal course curriculum. By relegating intersectionality, reparations, affirmative action, the history of mass incarceration, and Black Lives Matters to optional topics, the College Board is putting the onus on students to seek out, learn about, and advocate for their right to learn about these foundational aspects of American history.
AP African American Studies is just one course that’s being piloted in just 60 schools across the country this year. Watering it down sends a dangerous precedent for the stories we tell, the histories we teach, and the experiences that are lifted up for students. Rigor is about more than just a score on a transcript or a college credit. A truly rigorous course, and educational experience, is one in which ALL students learn an accurate and honest history of this country; encounter texts with people and characters who are multidimensional and from diverse backgrounds; and are held to high expectations for reading, writing, and thinking in ways that stretch their thinking, foster a love of learning, and boost their sense of belonging, identity, and empathy. As the saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And adults need to count on the next generations to uphold that notion — for democracy’s sake.