First-ever African American studies advanced placement course starts in select high schools

The interdisciplinary course will cover everything from Black music and literature to geography and Marvel's "Black Panther" film.

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For the first time since 2014, the College Board is offering an Advanced Placement course. This one  — AP African American Studies — is also a first-of-its-kind, giving students at 60 schools around the country the opportunity to study the history of civil rights and examine the significant contributions and experiences of African Americans.

According to several media accounts, the interdisciplinary course will also cover topics such as African American music, literature, the arts and humanities, geography, political science — and, according to TIME —  the significance of Marvel’s “Black Panther” film.

CNN reported that high school instructors gathered at Howard University over the summer to evaluate the curriculum and prepare for the launch, which coincides with a national debate on racial-based education. 

Sixty U.S. high schools now have as part of their curriculum a new advanced placement class examining civil rights and the significant contributions and experiences of Black Americans. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Marlon Williams-Clark teaches the subject in Florida, where there are prohibitions on teaching the 1619 Project and critical race theory, TIME has reported. There’s also the “Stop WOKE” act, which is designed to control the way race is discussed in schools.

“I live in Florida, so I had to let them [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,” said Williams-Clark of the Florida State University Schools, according to TIME.

Renowned educator Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who worked on the curriculum’s development, praised it, emphasizing that it should not be confused with critical race theory.

“Nothing is more dramatic than having the [nonprofit] 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,” Gates said, TIME reported. “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.”

Some educators welcome the AP course because it will help set a national standard in the K-12 curriculum for teaching African American studies.

“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,” Sharon Courtney, a teacher based in New York state and a participant in the pilot program, told TIME.

African American Studies Course
Students at selected high schools around the country will receive college credit if they successfully complete the College Board’s newly launched AP African American Studies course. (Photo: AdobeStock)

The AP course has been more than a decade in the making. When the College Board previously asked colleges and universities if they would accept college credit for such a subject, the answer was no. Ten years later, after posing the question again, they received a resounding “yes,” Trevor Packer, head of the College Board’s AP Program, said in the TIME report.

“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’?” Packer asked rhetorically.

According to TIME, students will be eligible to take the African American studies AP course for college credit at approximately 35 colleges starting the next academic year. Meanwhile, CNN reported that the course should be accessible to all interested high schools by the 2024–2025 school year.

The successful completion of high school AP classes yields college credits that students can apply toward a bachelor’s degree, meaning that they would have college credits even before they enroll in  any classes and would need fewer classes to reach the 120-college credit threshold that the College Board requires for the undergraduate degree. Importantly, this can save time and money spent on tuition.

TIME noted that Black students are less likely than their Asian and white peers to participate in AP programs and are more likely to attend schools that lack the courses. The College Board (and teachers) is hoping the new course will attract students who are typically underrepresented. 

“Many of my students report back to me while they’re in college, and they say it would have been so good to have this particular course,” Nelva Q. Williamson, a Houston educator teaching the course told TIME.

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