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College Board Launches First AP African American Studies Course

College Board Launches First AP African American Studies Course

It will be taught in 60 schools nationwide this year!

The College Board has launched the first advanced placement African American Studies course, TIME reports. 

The College Board is a nonprofit responsible for administering college-entrance exams like the SATs. For years, the organization has said that high schools have requested an AP African American Studies class but when it surveyed colleges and universities a decade ago regarding accepting college credit for such a course, most colleges had a resounding no. A decade later, the tides have changed and the answer from a majority of the universities was yes. As a result, for the first time ever, there will be an Advanced Placement African American Studies available nationwide.

“The events surrounding George Floyd and the increased awareness and attention paid towards issues of inequity and unfairness and brutality directed towards African Americans caused me to wonder, ‘Would colleges be more receptive to an AP course in this discipline than they were 10 years ago?’” said Trevor Packer, head of the College Board’s AP Program.

Now a pilot curriculum has been released, with more than 60 schools across the country teaching the AP African American Studies course this year. It is the College Board’s 40th AP course and the first new course since 2014. Students taking the course will be able to earn college credit at about 25 colleges including Virginia Tech and Tuskegee University. 

During a time when scholarly studies about African American history are under fire, the official launching of an AP African American studies course is a breath of fresh air. Projects like New York Times’ 1619 Project are being banned in schools, and frameworks like Critical Race Theory (CRT) are being criticized and used interchangeably when anything remotely related to race is taught in schools. So far, 19 states have passed legislation or rules aimed at quelling how race and racism are discussed in the classroom and teachers are feeling the pressure.

Marlon Williams-Clark, one of the educators piloting the new AP course this year says it is a sensitive topic to broach but one that’s extremely important. 

“I live in Florida so I had to let [my students] know that I have to be careful about how I might phrase some things or some of the topics that we may learn about…I just feel like we’re in a dangerous moment, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep pushing. We’ve got to keep fighting. We’ve got to keep teaching,” he told reporters.

The new course is interdisciplinary, covering everything from the history of Africa to music, culture, and 400 years of contributions to the United States by people of African descent. The course is designed to prepare students for more rigorous college courses and the College Board has outlined the material students need to know to pass the final exam. Topics include the concept of intersectionality, particularly around race and gender identities, the Reconstruction era and its connection to mass incarceration, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party as well as Juneteenth, one of the most recent federal holidays. There are also elective studies surrounding reparations and the Black Lives Matter movement that are part of the curriculum but not necessary for passing the final exam. 

Dr. Henry Louis Gates, who worked on developing the AP African American Studies curriculum, and is also working with Oxford on a new African American English dictionary, said the course is necessary for cementing African American history as legitimate in this country. 

“Nothing is more dramatic than having the College Board launch an AP course in a field - that signifies ultimate acceptance and ultimate academic legitimacy. Ap African American Studies is not CRT. It’s not the 1619 Project. It is a mainstream, rigorously vetted, academic approach to a vibrant field of study, one half a century old in the American academy, and much older, of course, in historically Black colleges and universities,” said Gates. 

The College Board is hoping that the new course will bring in more Black students who are historically underrepresented in AP classes. The course also creates a baseline for a standardized K-12 curriculum around African American history nationally.

New York teacher Sharon Courtney, who is also participating in the pilot, said the course is necessary. 

“Everyone’s doing their own thing in different parts of the country [and] I’m really happy about the College Board’s ability to standardize the curriculum and put it out there for everyone, at a time when the country needed an organized approach to combat the firestorm of opposition to critical race theory and teaching anything that revolves around African Americans in this country,” said Courtney. 

Photo Courtesy of Florida A&M/African American Intellectual History Society