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AP African American studies course is watered down after pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis

In the revised syllabus for the course, the College Board made substantial revisions to sections criticized by the Florida Republican's administration.
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The College Board has revised its framework for an Advanced Placement African American studies course, cutting material that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration said had a left-wing bias.

The College Board and many of the academic experts consulted about the framework insisted that they would not give in to political pressure and that the revisions had long been planned. But the changes released Wednesday, at the start of Black History Month, make concessions that directly address conservatives' concerns.

In the revised syllabus, the College Board, a nonprofit that oversees the AP program nationwide, removed the names of several Black authors identified as problematic by Florida officials.

Amirah Riddick and other students in an Advanced Placement African American Studies class at Brooklyn Preparatory High School on Oct. 19, 2022, in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Amirah Riddick and other students in an Advanced Placement African American Studies class at Brooklyn Preparatory High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Oct. 19.Marc J. Franklin / NBC News

State officials announced last month that they had rejected the course because of six areas of concern — "Black Queer Studies," "Intersectionality," "Movement for Black Lives," "Black Feminist Literary Thought," "The Reparations Movement" and "Black Struggle in the 21st Century" — and works by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, bell hooks, Angela Davis and other Black authors.

In the revised syllabus, the College Board substantially revised sections about intersectionality. And gone is a section about the Movement for Black Lives.

Instead, in a section for suggested research project topics — which includes the caveat that they are "not a required part of the course framework that is formally adopted by states" — there are suggestions about reparations, the Black Lives Matter movement and, in a new addition, Black conservatism.

The content of the revised syllabus was described in detail to NBC News by David Blight, a professor of history and African American studies at Yale University. Blight was among the many academics to whom the College Board sent the revised syllabus.

"I am now disappointed to learn that a major section on the end of this curriculum was removed from an earlier version," Blight said.

"I support the course as a creation of academic freedom," he added. "It took a lot of people to create this half-century tradition of African American studies and students in every state. ... No legislature, governor or school board has the right to simply cancel it and stand in the way."

AP African-American Studies pilot program
Gloria Ansah, 17, takes notes during AP African American Studies at Overland High School in Aurora, Colo., on Nov. 1. The course is part of a national pilot class that about 60 schools nationwide are participating in.RJ Sangosti / Denver Post via Getty Images

The New York Times first reported the revised framework.

Throughout the revised syllabus are other changes in sections Florida officials called attention to:

  • In addition to the section about the Movement for Black Lives, a section about the "Black Struggle in the 21st Century" has been eliminated. The central suggested reading for that section — works by the author Robin D.G. Kelley — does not appear at all in the updated version.
  • The previous version included a weekly instructional focus on "The Black Feminist Movement, Womanism, and Intersectionality." In the revised version, intersectionality is mentioned only in the sample project topics — a list the framework says is only “for illustrative purposes.”
  • Similarly, the previous version included a dedicated topic section about the reparations movement, but the revised version mentions “the reparations debate” only as a possible sample project topic. The revised version also removes all mentions of Ta-Nehisi Coates and his book “The Case for Reparations.” The earlier version included that and other works by Coates as “considered reading.”
  • The previous version included a topic titled "Black Queer Studies"; the updated version does not include the word “queer” at all. It does feature a topic titled "Black Women and Movements in the 20th Century" that includes language that “many Black lesbians, in particular, did not see or feel a space for them in the civil rights movement.” The revised curriculum in this section proposes reading Toni Morrison, whereas the earlier version suggested multiple authors, including Cathy Cohen, Roderick Ferguson and E. Patrick Johnson.
  • The revised section on "Black Feminist Literary Thought" maintains much of the topic guidance about various women's movements as in the original version, but it removes all the authors Florida officials objected to and moves the focus of the unit away from modern activists.
  • Also gone from the revised course framework is any mention of the specific authors Florida officials pointed to in the first version, including Crenshaw and Davis.

DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin said in a statement that the state Education Department is reviewing the new course framework "for corrections and compliance with Florida law."

DeSantis’ administration announced last month that the new AP course would not be taught in Florida high schools. The Education Department claimed that the material was not historically accurate and that it violated the state’s Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a law DeSantis signed last year that effectively curtails conversations about race in schools.

The College Board subsequently announced it would release a new, updated framework for the course, saying the revised material had been under development since March. The timing of the College Board’s announcement and response prompted questions about whether it was bowing to the pressures created by DeSantis' decision; the ordeal elicited an outcry among academics and Democrats, many of whom urged the organization to not appease DeSantis.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization, maintains that the revisions were based wholly on the input of educators and experts in the field, including 300 professors of African American studies across the U.S.

"No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it. This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices," the College Board said in a statement Wednesday announcing the revised curriculum.

It added that "this process was completed in December 2022" — before DeSantis' administration announced its actions against the course.

The statement nonetheless acknowledged "an overall reduction in the breadth of the course."

It also said the new framework was different in that, unlike the earlier version, it requires only "primary sources," like "core historical, literary and artistic works." Some of the required reading that had fallen out of the updated version could be described as "secondary sources," which tend to feature more commentary and analysis.

In interviews before the revised curriculum was released, many academic experts responsible for creating the framework stuck to the College Board's explanation that the changes had been in progress long before Florida's criticism.

Some, however, now suggest that the changes may have been the only way to continue teaching the course at all to students in Florida.

“Do we want a world with African American studies or a world without it?” asked a member of the development committee for the course’s framework, Teresa Reed, the dean of the School of Music at the University of Louisville.

"I unequivocally think we want a world with it," Reed said, although she continued to deny that the revisions were at all related to the Florida criticism.

"I understand why it would be effective to draw a cause-and-effect relationship, but I can tell you emphatically that no cause-and-effect relationship exists," she said.

But when she was asked for examples of revisions to the course that were not related to Florida officials' items of concern, Reed said she was unable to provide any.

A member of the development committee and advisory board for the course, Robert Patterson, a professor of African American studies at Georgetown University, said revisions not related to specific concerns from Florida officials included shortening a unit about anti-colonial and early Black freedom movements, as well as removing a unit about the social construction of race.

At least one prominent civil rights group expressed outrage at the College Board's "political posturing" and urged it to pull all AP classes from Florida schools in protest.

“The College Board’s decision to capitulate to Governor Ron DeSantis’ extremist anti-Black censorship demands, stripping the AP African American studies course of key content about contemporary Black history, is an insult to the lived experiences of millions of Black Americans throughout our country today," David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said in a statement.

CORRECTION (Feb. 1, 2023, 11 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated when Florida officials announced they had rejected the AP course and when the DeSantis administration announced that the new AP course would not be taught in Florida high schools. It was last month, not this month.