Politics, Conservatism, and the AP College Board – Who Are We Censoring?

While we’ve been distracted by the outrage over Roald Dahl’s changed books, the AP African Americans Studies course has been being censored under our noses. The Florida Governor attacked the new course, and it’s been stripped down by the College Board.

This matters. We can’t brush it off as just a Florida problem, or just an American problem. We live in a globalized world, and educational trends and politics travel. There is nowhere that isn’t esxperiencing difficult social conversations about who our classrooms serve and what we ought to be teaching in them, and the College Board in America holds a lot of influence.

Our classrooms do not exist in cultural vaccuums. They are instruments of culture, where we build the ideas and values that exist in our communities. We use them to define who we should listen to, whose stories matter, what knowledge is real and valuable.

And we’re letting them take James Baldwin off that list.

James Baldwin has been censored out of the the AP African American Studies course. James Baldwin. Why are we outraged over Roald Dahl, but can’t muster up the same energy when James Baldwin is removed from our reading lists?

I know the answer, and you do too.

The AP College Board operates across America, and to some extent, Canada – allowing students to take courses in high school that can be used for credit in university. They are a National organization that International universities recognize, and they are not guided by a single US State’s curriculum.

And yet – Florida’s Governor has weighed in, and the College Board’s new AP African American Studies course has been changed. It is important, here, to note that the College Board denies that the Governor’s attacks influenced their decisions in the pilot year of the course. It’s a big coincidence that the very things he criticizes are gone, though, and they can offer no other explanation.

Governor DeSantis misunderstood (deliberately?) African American Studies, characterizing it as a history course, as if African Americans do not still exist today. He attacked the lessons and readings on queer identities and Black feminsim, as if only white people have to grapple with those identities, as if those intersections only exist one way. He said that politics do not belong in classrooms, as if the very fact of being Black is a political stance, as if the fault lines in our communities were not caused by political decisions.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if you think your education was free of politics, it just means your education contained your politics.

Governor DeSantis doesn’t want a politics free classroom. He wants a classroom full of the politics that will keep people like him in power. White. Male. Straight. Rich.

The College Board has released their revised curriculum – and it’s too close to the Governor’s attacks for comfort. James Baldwin is gone. Critical Race Theory is gone. Queer and Feminist studies are stripped to the bone. A unit on Black Lives Matter is optional. It is not radical, it will not change minds. It is whitewashed. It is safe.

It is too close a step to allowing conservatism and powerful governmental lobbies to dictate whose ideas and values and stories we pass on to the next generation – to the next electorate. Particularly in a time when books are being banned and governments around the world are moving towards populism, conservatism, dare I say it? Fascism. Marine Le Pen, leader of the historically populist and far right National Rally party, nearly won France’s most recent election. Giorgia Meloni, leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy, did win Italy’s last election. This is not the time, in America or in the rest of the world, for our curriculums to be playing it safe.

As an educator, it is easy to feel helpless and hopeless, in the face of more powerful governmental forces and laws we can’t change.

But we can still teach.

If you, or someone you know, wants to learn the ideas that are being censored out of our schools, I’ll teach them. I’ll teach James Baldwin, and I’ll teach you how radical Dr. King was, and I’ll read you Maya Angelou until I’m blue in the face.

I’ll teach every single book that governments are banning and that school districts are taking off shelves.

I’ll be that instrument of culture.

You can learn more about this from an excellent podcast, Some of My Friends Are, in this Vox Article, and from the New York Times. See the current version of the framework for the AP African American Studies Class on the College Board Website. And learn more about how teachers can be subversive and revolutionary at Cult of Pedagogy.

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