On Florida's Erasure of Black HistoryRoundup
tags: curriculum, Florida, African American history, teaching history, Ron DeSantis
Lynn Pasquerella is president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities. Mary Dana Hinton is immediate past chair of the AAC&U Board of Directors and president of Hollins University.
The College Board began piloting an elective Advanced Placement course in African American studies at 60 high schools across the country last fall. Designed to offer students an evidence-based introduction to African American studies, the course explores the “vital contributions and experiences of African Americans” through the multidisciplinary study of history, politics, geography, science, literature, the arts and humanities.
Twelve days into the new year, the Florida Department of Education, which oversees the Advanced Placement program in the state, sent a letter to Brian Barnes, senior director of the College Board Florida Partnership, rejecting the proposal to offer the curriculum on the grounds that the course content is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” While failing to disclose which law the course violates or specify which materials are educationally lacking, the letter signed by the Office of Articulation nevertheless notes that should the College Board “be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion.”
Defending the decision in the aftermath of swift and widespread repudiation by educators, the Florida Commissioner of Education posted on Twitter, “We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.” This was followed by a statement providing further details about the department’s decision. Among the objections are that the section of the curriculum on “Movements and Debates” doesn’t provide a balanced perspective on reparations and that the readings include the works of Angela Davis, “a self-avowed Communist and Marxist”; Kimberlé Crenshaw, who is “known as the founder of intersectionality,” foundational to critical race theory; and bell hooks, who speaks of “white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Thus, state officials have positioned African American studies as a “vehicle for a political agenda” at odds with Governor Ron DeSantis’s legal mandate that “classrooms will be a place for education, not indoctrination.”
But what about the importance of teaching diverse and comprehensive perspectives of the United States that ultimately frame our understanding of history? By deciding not to teach multiple perspectives and experiences, we’re assuming a single shared perspective on the past and, de facto, a limited and incomplete view of history.
As leaders who advocate for the liberal arts and sciences, we find such moves dangerous. We dwell in a time when diverse voices and perspectives are, at best, being ignored and, at worst, being intentionally erased. A liberal education, whose singular goal is to free learners’ minds to think for themselves, would undoubtedly challenge us to query the desired outcomes of this moment when political leaders pick and choose whose histories and ideas are shared. For us, these moves lead to three unsettling but essential questions.
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