It’s been a few weeks since a mess started boiling over in Florida with the rollout of the new AP African American Studies course, and no one involved is looking good: not the state Department of Education, not the College Board, and definitely not Gov. Ron DeSantis, who blasted the course publicly and pressured the College Board to water it down. Now DeSantis, pumped up by what he thinks is his victory over educators, is making noise about going after all AP courses in the state.
It’s sad and infuriating to see the adults behaving like bullies and cowards, pointing fingers and trading accusations, while the ones being hurt are kids. Not just Black kids, who have waited years for a college-level course like this, but all kids – who will be deprived of a chance to learn foundational concepts in modern Black history if these adults have their way.
The new course omits many contemporary Black thinkers and writers. The core program doesn’t cover essential issues like structural marginalization, intersectionality, mass incarceration, reparations or the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s impossible to say students are well-versed in African American studies if these topics are considered optional. It’s even more absurd to say these students have attained college-level mastery of the subject, which is what AP credit is all about.
And what gets erased next? Do we teach kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., and not Malcolm X? Do we sideline Jesse Jackson? How about erasing Ruby Bridges, the little girl who was the first to integrate New Orleans schools? Ridiculous? Not at all: the far-right group Moms for Liberty really did try to ban a book about Ruby from classrooms, claiming it was too upsetting for kids to read about the white mob that harassed 6-year-old Ruby on her way to school.
College Board officials insist that Ron DeSantis’s pressure did not force them to make the changes they made in the AP African American Studies course, and I will give them credit for publicly pointing out the ignorance and political motivations on display at the Florida Department of Education. Regardless, the Board played right into DeSantis’s hands. And their decision to remove important material from the core portion of the course had the same effect in the end: kids don’t get exposed to it and their freedom to learn is shortchanged. All of us should demand that the College Board revise the curriculum to more accurately reflect the contemporary Black experience.
And at the same time, we should set our sights on removing politicians like DeSantis. Because he is hell-bent on building his right-wing political brand, today’s battlefield in the Far Right’s war on education is Florida; but it won’t stop there. It will be fought in Virginia, and Texas, and states across the country. Ambitious politicians like DeSantis in Florida and Glenn Youngkin in Virginia smell opportunity in this environment. It’s up to us to use the power vested in us by our representative democracy to stop them.
Maybe because I have served in office myself and have spent many years mentoring young elected officials, I will always have an unshakable faith in the power of representative democracy to solve problems and improve lives. I really believe that whatever mess elected officials have gotten us into, voters and true public servants can get us out. Those of us who care about threats to education need to wield our power at the ballot box against anti-education politicians. Or run for office ourselves. It might be a seat on the school board, or a local legislature, or a state office. Or higher.
That’s what I hope will come out of this disaster in Florida: not just the ultimate defeat of truly terrible officeholders but the elevation of truly good ones, who get into public service because they see a wrong to right. People we can count on to make inclusive education and opportunity a reality for all students, because all students have that right.