DeSantis ejects AP African American Studies from Florida schools

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is receiving a surge of backlash after his announcement that his administration is blocking a new Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course. This comes after the Florida Department of Education formally rejected the course in a letter to the College Board.

The AP course, which is currently undergoing a pilot program at 60 high schools, is expected to be expanded to all high schools by the 2024-25 academic year. The College Board describes the curriculum as an interdisciplinary course which “reaches into a variety of fields—literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography and science—to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.”

In a press conference at a Jacksonville school, DeSantis said the course tries to use Black history to “shoehorn in queer theory” and being politically motivated, among other claims.

“That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids. So, when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality and abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis’ reasoning for rejecting the course largely has to do with his “Stop WOKE Act,” which was signed into law last spring. A government news release describes the piece of legislation as fighting “corporate wokeness and Critical Race Theory.” 

There’s so much to evaluate about the ineptitude and ignorance surrounding DeSantis’ decision to block the AP course and his ideology as a whole. First and foremost, we need to establish how his concept of “wokeness” is meaningless and only exists to fuel the flames of a hackneyed culture war issue. 

The discourse originated from claims by DeSantis and other conservative politicians and pundits that critical race theory is being taught to children in K-12 public schools. Critical race theory, in its actual, non-buzzword definition, refers to an academic field of study primarily taught in higher education that critically evaluates how social and political movements, culture, laws and American history in general are impacted by race. There is no substantive or empirical evidence to support the claim that this is being taught to children in K-12 public schools.

The concept of “wokeness” is similar and is a term that has been frequently thrown around in American culture war politics recently. While the word is largely amorphous in its meaning, it is often evoked by conservatives when the topic at hand has anything to do with African Americans or other marginalized groups. Recently, one of DeSantis’ attorneys, Ryan Newman, defined the word as “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them.”

Newman’s comments are a pretty clear indication that by blocking the AP course, DeSantis isn’t trying to stop political agendas or indoctrination, rather he’s trying to limit education about racism and injustice altogether. Ironically, DeSantis’ repeated cries of political agendas are more true of his own actions in rejecting the curriculum, with his entire political ideology resting upon the myth that the United States is a meritocracy in which systemic injustices towards certain classes of people don’t exist. 

Perhaps DeSantis’ motive in blocking the course correlates with a desire to keep students from learning about injustices such as bias in the judicial system or the war on drugs, which historically and currently have had a disproportionate effect on African Americans. It’s in the best political interest of DeSantis and other conservatives for their voters to not become educated on these types of issues.

The blocking of the course also brings awareness to the gravely important fact that history preservation often needs to be fought for. Too often in America have we seen movements to sanitize and whitewash certain parts of our history, such as textbooks in the south as recent as the 1970’s which downplayed the atrocities of slavery with falsehoods such as “Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy.”  

The rejection of the AP course is nowhere near as extreme, and DeSantis himself affirmed that Florida’s curriculum requires teaching the important parts of Black history. However, the rejection of the AP course sets us on a dangerous path, as there’s no telling what kind of efforts limiting history education we will see in the future under the ruse of “anti-wokeness.”

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr