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Education

Florida Blocked a Black Studies AP Course. Here’s How Kids Can Learn It Outside of School.

We asked scholars to tell us what works they think are most critical for a foundation in African American Studies.

Protesters asking for the teaching of Black history in state schools demonstrated last year at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond. A 2015 study found that less than 9% of high school history class time is devoted to Black history in the U.S.(Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has rejected a proposed African American Studies course for high school students, saying that the advanced placement class “significantly lacks educational value.”

The College Board — a nonprofit organization that oversees SAT and Advanced Placement courses — had requested state approval of the new course, which delves into 400 years of Black people’s contributions to literature, politics, science, and other aspects of American life, according to the program description. Sixty high schools nationwide are participating in the pilot version of the course.

The Florida Department of Education’s Office of Articulation sent a letter last week to the College Board to block the effort, calling the course’s content “inexplicably contrary to Florida law.” In a Jan. 18 statement, the presidents of the Florida College System, which represent 28 community colleges in the state, supported the DeSantis administration’s decision. They said their institutions will not fund or support an academic requirement related to critical race theory, intersectionality, or “the idea that systems of oppression should be the primary lens through which teaching and learning are analyzed and/or improved upon,” a statement said. 

There is no indication that the AP course would teach critical race theory, an advanced academic concept that examines how societal systems are influenced by race and ethnicity.

Amid national efforts to restrict education about race and ethnicity in classrooms, rejection of the AP course adds to Black children’s inequitable access to opportunities in school. Already, Black students are not enrolled in AP courses at rates comparable to their white and Asian peers. Outside of AP courses, less than 9% of high school history class time is devoted to Black history in the U.S., according to a 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

For that reason, supplementing children’s education is often necessary to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Black history. Capital B asked four scholars of African American studies to tell us what works they think are most critical to give students a foundation in African American studies outside the classroom. 

Below is a reading list that we’ll expand on as more academic leaders fill us in on their top picks.

Malcolm X, Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley — “Still so relevant in understanding the ways in which Black men and women are treated as second-class citizens. What I love so much about this autobiography is that Malcolm’s Autobiography humanizes him while explaining how white racism shaped his views. Malcolm’s evolution after his trip to Mecca shows how we all evolve with new information.” — Dwonna Goldstone, director of African American Studies Program at Texas State University

Nathaniel Norment Jr., The African American Studies Reader — A comprehensive list of essays and opinions by Black scholars on the foundation of African American studies. The book expands on the history of the discipline, how the curriculum should be taught, and the challenges of African American studies with a particular focus on higher education.

Abdul Alkalimat, The History of Black Studies — The author dives into Black college students’ activism in the 1960s that led to the creation of Black studies courses across the country. He writes about the intellectual history, social movement, and academic profession of Black studies, and how Black people established the field before it became institutionalized.

W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk — Du Bois weaved themes of race and religion throughout this work to share the economic, political, and social challenges Black people faced at the hands of white people in 1903. The limitations placed on Black people as a result of the legacy of racism, sexism, and classism is still relevant in today’s society.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

“Because Black history and slavery have been sanitized in an effort to — allegedly — placate the feelings of white students, all students should read Jacobs and Douglass. Both autobiographies detail the experiences of enslaved men and women, and in the case of Jacobs’s narrative, how enslaved women are subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by white slaveholders.” — Goldstone

James Baldwin, A Letter to My Nephew — “Written in 1962, Baldwin’s A Letter to My Nephew explores his thoughts about his nephew’s future in a country with a horrific history of racism. This piece is still so relevant today as those in power continue to pass policies that restrict the teaching of Black history in this country. I mean, if we don’t know Black history, how can we explain why some groups have historically been left behind?” — Goldstone

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God — Coined as one of the most important works of the 20th century, Hurston tackles the importance of gender roles, women’s rights, and self-discovery through the lens of the main character, a Black woman in her 30s who struggles to find her identity. The book tackles the influence of Black culture on community, relationships, and society.