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Florida's AP African American studies ban should raise alarm elsewhere, lawmaker says

"People across the country should be concerned that legislators and governors across the country are going to do exactly what Florida is doing," says Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, pictured here in March 2022.
Wilfredo Lee
"People across the country should be concerned that legislators and governors across the country are going to do exactly what Florida is doing," says Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, pictured here in March 2022.

Updated January 23, 2023 at 10:50 AM ET

Florida's education department has blocked a proposed Advanced Placement course focused on African American studies, calling it a form of political indoctrination and a violation of state law.

The College Board has been developing the class for more than a decade and is currently piloting it at 60 schools across the U.S., while planning to make it available to all schools in the 2024-2025 school year. (High school students can choose to take AP classes to earn college credit or place into higher-level college classes.)

The course aims to explore the experiences and contributions of African Americans through various lenses, from the African diaspora to the Civil Rights movement and beyond, one of the scholars behind its curriculum told NPR.

But Florida officials have taken issue with the curriculum, which Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. called "woke indoctrination masquerading as education." He tweeted out a list of topics of concern, including intersectionality and activism, Black queer studies, movements for Black lives and the reparations movement.

"As we've said all along, if College Board decides to revise its course to comply with Florida law, we will come back to the table," Diaz added.

Florida is one of many states looking to restrict how teachers can talk about topics like race, sexual orientation and gender identity. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — who is widely expected to run for president in 2024 — has taken measures to exert more control over schools and reshape education in his state, including signing two restrictive bills into law last year.

The "Stop WOKE" Act limits how race can be taught in classrooms, and lets parents sue teachers and districts that violate it. The Parental Rights in Education Act, referred to by critics as "Don't Say Gay," prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade and sets limits on instruction after that point.

But Florida also has a law requiring schools to teach Black history, as Miami-Dade County School Board member Steve Gallon III told NPR's All Things Considered over the weekend, pointing out the inconsistency.

Critics, including the Florida branches of the NAACP and ACLU, have argued that the course ban is detrimental not only to Black Floridians but to all children seeking a comprehensive education in the state.

And it should raise alarm bells even beyond Florida's borders, says state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County. He told Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep that Florida is "just the testing ground."

"People across the country should be concerned that legislators and governors across the country are going to do exactly what Florida is doing," he said. "And we have the potential of raising an entire generation of Black children who will not be able to see themselves represented in their own state or in education."

And, Jones added, this move offers a glimpse into the "tone and tenor of what a possible Ron DeSantis run for president will look like."

Here's what else troubles him about the decision, and the impact he fears it will have on students.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Interview highlights

On what the class is supposed to accomplish

This was actually a pilot program that had come down from College Board that 60 other school districts had already piloted. And there were actually teachers here within the state of Florida who have already reached out to me to let me know that they were a part of the planning committee and they were excited about what was coming. It wasn't indoctrination, it wasn't ideology, it was facts that were in this curriculum that Gov. DeSantis made it clear that, "You know, what we're not going to teach that here in the state of Florida until you all go back and take out some of the woke ideology that you're pushing."

On the course topics that concern state officials

Some of the things that they were speaking about in it were talking about the Black struggle, it was talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, it spoke about Black queerness ... These are not issues that we should be shying away from, or shielding away from students. These are stories in [the] history of America's story that we should be embracing, and we should be ensuring that children understand this — and especially considering the fact that we offer European history, we offer Spanish history, we offer art history. All of these are a part of the story ... that we should not be taking away from our children in the classroom.

On the importance of learning different views

As we look at the AP courses and the level of students who are taking these courses, they are college level classes that [are] exploratory. We send our children to school to learn. Teachers are not in the classroom indoctrinating or telling children how they should feel based on others and what they've done in history ... When we start banning books of individuals like Angela Davis, when we start banning books like Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, those writers were writing from their perspective, from their time, from that moment in history.

On what African American studies classes may look like in Florida

I think you're going to start seeing a lot of communities start to teach African American history to children on their own. And the very fact that we are arguing that AP African American studies violates the state law, it just goes to highlight how vague last year's Stop WOKE Act is, and the danger that poses to the future of education within the state. This decision totally illustrates just how far this administration is willing to weaponize policies under the guise of individual freedom, when in fact we are taking away rights from our students and, truthfully, from their parents.

On what parents are saying

Just yesterday a group of parents, Black parents, made it clear they're coming up to Tallahassee on Wednesday because they want to be a part of this fight, to ensure that our history is taught, it is factual and that students have the same experience that every child should have and learn about the history of this country and what has happened across this world.

The audio for this interview was produced by Mansee Khurana and edited by Olivia Hampton.

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

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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