Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR

Critics say Florida aims to rewrite history by rejecting African American studies

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state rejected the African American studies course because education "is about the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of ideology or the advancement of a political agenda."
Lynne Sladky
/
AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state rejected the African American studies course because education "is about the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of ideology or the advancement of a political agenda."

Florida's department of education, under the leadership of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, rejected an Advanced Placement course on African American studies. The decision is leading to a wave of backlash across the country — from other state lawmakers to labor unions and even a potential lawsuit.

"One Governor should not have the power to dictate the facts of U.S. history," Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in letter to the College Board, which develops the AP courses that help high school students across the country earn college credit.

On Wednesday, civil rights lawyer Ben Crump announced that three Florida high school students are prepared to challenge the state's decision in court.

Sponsor Message

Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the nation's largest labor union, was also present when Crump made the announcement.

"When we censor classes and whitewash lesson plans, we harm our students and do them a deep disservice," Pringle tweeted. "I support the educators at Florida's state capitol today to demand complete and honest education for all Florida students."

Pringle, along with more than 28,000 others as of Thursday afternoon, signed a petition demanding the Florida State Board of Education approve the course.

"It's clear that Fl. Gov. DeSantis has been using Black students as political pawns in his quest to build power and conservative outrage, and the Florida State Board of Education (SBE) has long enabled him," the petition reads.

The president of another labor union, the American Federation of Teachers, also publicly denounced the Florida decision.

Sponsor Message

"AP courses are a pathway to help build critical thinking skills – to learn new information and apply it to life," the union's president, Randi Weingarten, tweeted. "How can Gov DeSantis erase all of Black history?"

Pritzker, the Illinois governor, penned a letter to College Board CEO David Coleman asking the organization "to preserve the fundamental right to an education that does not follow the political grandstanding of Governor DeSantis and the whims of Republicans in Florida."

"I urge you to maintain your reputation as an academic institution dedicated to the advanced of students and refuse to bow to political pressure that would ask you to rewrite our nation's true, if sometimes unpleasant, history," Pritzker added.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, is asking the College Board to ignore the Republican Florida governor's rejection of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies.
Saul Loeb / AFP via Getty Images
/
AFP via Getty Images
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, is asking the College Board to ignore the Republican Florida governor's rejection of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies.

The NAACP also denounced Florida's decision as "whitesplaining."

"The move to censor topics like intersectionality, the movement for Black lives, and reparations is nothing more than an assault on African-American history and worldviews - effectively whitesplaining topics that are integral to the development of American history, culture, and identity," Ivory Toldson, director of education innovation and research for the civil rights group, wrote in an op-ed.

Sponsor Message

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones also shared his disapproval by tweeting that Florida is "the place where you #Don'tSayBlack," a reference to a controversial education bill that prohibits discussion of sexual orientation through third grade.

New York Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat, echoed the same sentiment on Twitter, saying, "Florida has gone from Don't Say Gay to Don't Say Black."

Meanwhile, in schools where the pilot program is already taking place, both students and teachers are thankful for the course.

"We talk about arts," Alex Janke, who teaches at a predominately Black high school in Milwaukee that offers the program, told told NPR "We talk about cultural trends. We talk about the diaspora outside of the United States as well, which might not be included in some of the other classes that I've taught before."

Florida rejected the course because officials, including DeSantis, said it contributed to a "political agenda."

"Education is about the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of ideology or the advancement of a political agenda," DeSantis tweeted on Monday.

After the state rejected the course, the College Board announced on Tuesday that it will be releasing a newly revised version of the course on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month.

In its announcement, the organization said it is using "the contributions of experts, teachers and students" in its revisions.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR
Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.