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Did the College Board cave to pressure to revise African American studies curriculum?


The College Board is being accused of giving in to political pressure now that it's revised an Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had threatened to ban the course, claiming it contributed to a, quote, "political agenda." Certain Black writers were taken out of the curriculum that explored critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. Lessons on things like Black Lives Matter are now optional. Joining us is Teresa Reed, the dean of the University of Louisville's School of Music. She's a member of the committee that developed the new framework. Good morning, Teresa.

TERESA REED: Good morning.

FADEL: Did the College Board cave into political pressure here?

REED: Absolutely not. And I can answer that by addressing some misunderstandings about the framework and about the totality of the course. Let me say first that the framework is not the totality of the course. There are other elements of the course that are still under construction, one of which is a very powerful online platform called AP Classroom which supports all AP courses. And that is still being built for AP African American Studies. And it is on the platform where a very robust selection of all of those supposedly controversial topics and authors will live.

FADEL: Does that include, though, the things I mentioned - writers that explore critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, reparations, all these things that are said to be controversial?

REED: Yes, the resources that address those controversial topics will live on AP Classroom that's being constructed for AP African American Studies. It's an online platform. And so that's separate and different from the framework itself. But it will be available to - it'll be widely available. And I should mention, those resources will be available - accessible free of charge.

FADEL: I guess my question here, though, is would the revisions have been made if it didn't become such a political issue among people like Governor DeSantis and others? Would it have been made if it wasn't being - if people weren't threatening to ban the course?

REED: No, not at all. The framework that was leaked was exactly the same - if you can imagine it, publishing a book. By the time you release a completed book, in the prior life of that book are probably multiple iterations or multiple earlier drafts. The earlier draft of the framework that is the point of comparison to the officially released framework was exactly that. It was a draft.

And so what's happened is that there was an assumption that the leaked draft was somehow an official pronouncement of what the course would include or exclude. And then the released version from the day before yesterday is to be compared to that. You know, if someone were to say to me, here's the book you published today, but here's your draft from a year ago. Why aren't they the same? How to answer that question - one would be stumped because the question itself is pretty ludicrous. But absolutely not - DeSantis was not a factor at all in the framework - outcome of the framework. But there again, if the College Board wanted to appease DeSantis, it didn't do a very good job because all of those supposedly controversial topics and authors will appear as secondary sources on AP Classroom.

The other thing that I'd like to point out is that there is a very important project that students can do or that students will be required to do as 20% of the AP exam - of the AP score, which enables them to exercise the skill of argumentation on any topic at all of their choosing. And that skill of argumentation, which is a part of the course, will instruct students on how to develop a thesis, how to compile credible evidence, and how to string together a line of reasoning to form a persuasive argument. Keep in mind that the students doing that project in Unit 4 will have had access to all of the kinds of supposedly controversial authors and topics that the College Board has been accused of eliminating, which will in fact live on the AP Classroom platform.

FADEL: After the draft was leaked, I mean, it became such a big news topic, a political hot topic, and so many issues that are explored are ultimately boogeymen in today's political landscape - critical race theory, this academic concept that's been around for 40 years. What was it like to watch that happen as you were developing the course?

REED: I think that these times are fraught, and it's really important to keep students in the focus. I think the important thing about AP African American Studies at the end of the day is that it will enable students - thousands, potentially millions of students to get aspects of the American story that have traditionally not been told. And they'll get that story with robust pedagogy, many resources and the ability to think about themselves as situated in the American fabric in a very important way.

FADEL: Teresa Reed is a College Board consultant. Thank you so much for your time.

REED: Thank you so much, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.