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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Advanced Placement African American Studies course sparks controversy

Administration cites intersectionality, queer studies in violation of state law

In response to his administration blocking Advanced Placement African American Studies from Florida classrooms, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida “want[s] education, not indoctrination.” 

But Jordan Marlowe, Newberry High School teacher and the city’s mayor, said the two don’t coincide.

“Anytime you have government officials with no education background telling people who've been trained how to teach, what to teach — that's no longer education,” Marlowe said. “That's indoctrination.”

The Florida Department of Education rejected the AP course in a Jan. 12 letter. DeSantis cited topics like intersectionality and queer studies as reasons for why the course violates Florida law in a Jan. 23 news conference.

“When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes,” DeSantis said.

AP courses are designed with college-level material and may be used for college credit, depending on the university.

In the letter, the department said it would reconsider the course if the College Board, the organization that creates AP courses, revised it. The College Board said a revised course framework will be released Feb. 1, though the nonprofit hasn’t explicitly said that’s because of the discourse in Florida.

At Newberry, Marlowe, 46, teaches African American history — a course that’s offered in each of Alachua County’s seven public high schools. Marlowe had a hand in developing the course three years ago. 

AP African American studies being rejected is unfortunate, Marlowe said.

“We can't get [politicians] interested in increasing the salary so that we could get higher caliber college students to think about joining the education career,” he said. “But we can sure generate their interest in writing curriculum.”

The AP course is being piloted at some high schools, but won’t be fully available until the 2024-2025 school year. Its draft of the course framework was first released by The Florida Standard, a right-leaning news publication, Jan. 19, four days before DeSantis publicly commented on the course.

Once the course’s curriculum is finalized, the College Board will make this information publicly available, said Jessica Morey, an African American history teacher at Buchholz High School. 

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“A parent would be able to peruse it before they allow their child to enroll in the course,” she said in an email. “The course would be an elective, so it would be completely optional for students to take.”

Morey was excited about the course, she said, because it could interest more students in African American studies. AP courses hold more weight than regular or honor ones do, so students sometimes flock to them to raise their GPAs. 

In Florida’s curriculum benchmarks for K-12 African American history, there’s no mention of queer studies or intersectionality. But DeSantis shouldn’t scrap the whole course because of topics like queer studies and intersectionality, 18-year-old Newberry senior Addy Lowry said.

“There's a lot of negative things that happened,” Lowry said. “But you can use that and learn how to move on and have those hard conversations. But by not teaching it and not talking about it, we're pretending it didn't happen.”

The rejection of the course comes almost a year after DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education, or “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, preventing discussion of sexual and gender identity in elementary schools and discouraging it in all grades.

“This course on Black history — what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory,” DeSantis said at the Jan. 23 news conference. “Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?”

David Canton, director of UF’s African American Studies program, would say so.

“Believe it or not, there are African Americans who are queer and intersectionality deals with race, gender, class and all these different intersections in one in human beings identities,” Canton said. 

But if the College Board removed these topics from AP African American studies to gain approval from DeSantis’ administration, Canton said students would be behind when they get to college.

“This is what's discussed on the college level,” he said. “By removing it from the AP curriculum course, you're doing a disservice to the student.”

There’s a belief, Canton said, that African American studies is whipping students into “social change agents.”

“But that's not our job,” he said. “Our job is to inform them of all the ideas, all the debates, and then students decide what they want to do with it.”

The UF African American Studies department will discuss the issue further during a town hall meeting Feb. 21.

There are many topics in Alachua County African American history courses that aren’t covered because of time restraints, said Jon Rehm, the Alachua County Public Schools K-12 social studies curriculum specialist. 

Alachua County’s courses are carefully crafted to let students form their own opinions, he said. 

"We want to give the students, as much as possible, an unbiased story of history … and let students make their own decisions as to political rightness or wrongness,” Rehm said. 

Contact Lauren at Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBrensel.

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Lauren Brensel

Lauren Brensel is a journalism sophomore and a metro reporter for The Alligator. In her free time, she's found going on mental health walks, being silly with friends, hiding from the public and reminding those around her that they did this song on Glee.

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