Academics and Democratic lawmakers reacted angrily last week after the administration of Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected a new high school Advanced Placement African-American studies course—without even seeing its syllabus—claiming it violates the state’s ban on “woke” education and “lacks educational value.”
Some Republican Florida officials said they believe the African-American studies course offered by the College Board—which approves AP courses and runs SAT testing—violates the state’s Stop WOKE Act by promoting critical race theory (CRT), a graduate-level academic framework positing that systemic racism is inherent in U.S. society.
DeSantis said the Stop WOKE Act, which applies to schools from the primary through university level and businesses, is meant to combat “wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism.”
The law was partially blocked last year by a federal judge who rejected the state’s “authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom.'”
Marvin Dunn, a prolific author and former Florida International University professor who has dedicated his career to preserving and sharing Florida’s Black history, told the Daily Beast that the state’s rejection of the AP African-American studies course “means an insult to me, it means an injury to me.”
“Florida is doing its best to shut down discussions about race, slavery, anything having to do with a challenge to the idea that racism is still a real factor in American life today,” he added.
New York University historian Diane Ravitch wrote:
Just in case there was any doubt about what Gov. DeSantis and Florida Legislature banned when they outlawed any discussion of “critical race theory,” that doubt has been resolved. They do not want schools and teachers to acknowledge race, racism, or the very existence of people of color in the United States. Sight unseen, the [Florida Department of Education] has banned an AP course on African-American studies. The department claimed that the content of the course is historically inaccurate and violates state law, even though the department has never seen the course syllabus.
DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has backed dozens of right-wing school board candidates while purging education officials who promote or enforce Covid-19 mandates. Last year, he outraged LGBTQ+ advocates by signing into law the so-called “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, falsely claiming that schools were promoting “pornographic” material.
Cassandra Quick, a Seattle-area attorney who is Black and transgender, told Common Dreams that Republicans like DeSantis “seek to silence the stories and histories of Black and Brown people, and of queer people, in a bid to maintain the cultural, economic, and political hegemony they’ve enjoyed since the inception of the United States and which is threatened by current efforts to shine the light on the realities of those they have suppressed and marginalized.”
“Diversity and equity are offensive to the conservative worldview, and they will use whatever tools available to continue enforcing a hierarchy which keeps those they consider the in-group at the top, and the rest of us at the bottom, if they must abide our existence at all,” Quick added.
In its brief letter explaining why it rejected the AP African-American studies course, the Florida Department of Education (DOE) said that “as presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
The letter was issued on January 12, just days before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and days after the 100th anniversary of the Rosewood Massacre, in which white supremacists destroyed the eponymous Black town in Levy County, Florida in a murderous rampage.
Florida DOE spokesperson Cassie Pelelis told the Daily Beast that “if the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the department will reopen the discussion.”
In response to Florida’s move, the College Board told the Daily Beast that “we look forward to publicly releasing the updated course framework as soon as it is completed and well before this class is widely available in American high schools.”
In a separate statement, the College Board said that “like all new AP courses, AP African-American Studies is undergoing a rigorous, multiyear pilot phase, collecting feedback from teachers, students, scholars, and policymakers. The process of piloting and revising course frameworks is a standard part of any new AP course, and frameworks often change significantly as a result.”
Clearly every history except Black, is seen as worthy of further development, exploration and understanding in Florida under DeSantis' leadership. Black history is American history. Striking it from curriculum does students a grave disservice, and makes America weaker for it. https://t.co/IpiahqpsE7
— Ameshia Cross (@AmeshiaCross) January 19, 2023
Reacting to the course’s rejection, political analyst Ameshia Cross tweeted: “Black history is American history. Striking it from [the] curriculum does students a grave disservice, and makes America weaker for it.”