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College Board Fights Back Against Gov. DeSantis’ Culture War

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mulls ending AP courses in Florida after the state college board slammed his attack on AP African American History. Source: Twitter.

The assault on Advanced Placement African American courses continued in Florida this month with Gov. Ron DeSantis and culture warriors in the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) claiming the Black-centered AP course “lacks educational value.”

The state college board begged to differ and struck back with a scathing letter Feb. 11.

“Our commitment to AP African American Studies is unwavering,” the board said, and called the Florida Department of Education’s accusations against AP courses “slander.”

DeSantis, who frequently describes colleges as “socialism factories,” previously criticized college sports for allowing transgender athletes to participate, and Florida moneymaker Disney for opposing his bigoted “Don’t Say Gay” policies. The governor favors legislation allowing parents to sue schools that teach Critical Race Theory and prohibits teachers from leading classroom discussions on gender identity and sexual orientation. At one point, DeSantis’ GOP allies on state boards even rejected math books they claimed contained elements of race and “social-emotional learning.”

It was more recently DeSantis announced a plan to block African American AP studies from being taught in high schools, claiming it violates state law and is inaccurate. The state education department, now filled with culture war bigots, rejected the state’s AP African American program in a letter last week to the College Board, which oversees AP classes.

The college board complained Florida education officials did not bother specifying exactly what course content the state found objectionable but claimed it was “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”

The college board is not the same kind of animal as Florida’s education board, however—at least, not yet. Also, unlike the state’s hijacked education board, the college board can spell.

“We were naive not to announce Florida’s rejection of the course when FDOE first notified us on September 23, 2022, in a letter entitled “’CB Letter AP Africain [sic] Studies,’” the college board wrote this week. “This letter, like all written communications we received from Florida, contained no explanation of the rejection. Instead, Florida invited us to call them if we had any questions.”

The college board says it tried to make those calls but got nothing but politically laced non-answers and pointless bromides. “These phone calls with FDOE were absent of substance, despite the audacious claims of influence FDOE is now making. In the discussion, they did not offer feedback but instead asked vague, uninformed questions like, ‘What does the word ‘intersectionality’ mean?’ and ‘Does the course promote Black Panther thinking?’ FDOE did not bring any African American Studies scholars or teachers to their call with us, despite the presence in their state of so many renowned experts in this discipline.”

Republican culture attacks on Black education are similarly brainless in every dark corner they haunt, and they put a high value on white feelings. Black Girl Times (BGX) reported on a similar move to restrict Black-related history education in Mississippi with the passage last year of SB 2113. Senate Bill 2113, signed by the state’s Republican governor last year, bars public or charter school educators from any attempt to “direct or compel students to affirm that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior.” Critics say the ulterior motivation is to restrict truth-telling of the nation’s ugly history because it might make white students feel guilty.

PEN America, a nonprofit that defends free expression, claims the main push of culture war restrictions from DeSantis and others is to constrain educators’ speech and limit classroom discussion of controversial topics and ideologies. Most anti-CRT and anti-Black education bills carry the threat of mandatory punishment or legal action for violators. Additionally, many culture war bills are badly drafted and include factual errors, contradictions, and undefined terms.

In its letter, the Florida College Board faulted itself for its delayed response to the Department of Education’s whitewash attempt.

“We deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander, magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies ‘lacks educational value.’ Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field.”

An earlier incarnation of the college board’s response offered a gentler tone of the FDOE attack, but it’s more recent letter revealed little subtlety.

“We have made the mistake of treating FDOE with the courtesy we always accord to an education agency, but they have instead exploited this courtesy for their political agenda,” the board wrote.

Since the board’s barbed Saturday response, DeSantis has announced he and his GOP allies will be reevaluating the need for AP courses. Within a mere 72 hours, DeSantis embraced the familiar bigot tactic of closing schools to defy integration orders as he attempts to make an end run around a system that dares defy him.

“Nobody elected (the College Board) to anything,” DeSantis told reporters. “They’re just … providing services, and so you can either utilize those services or not. They have provided these AP courses for a long time, but … there are probably some other vendors who may be able to do that job as good or maybe even a lot better.”