Is the new AP African American Studies course dangerous? Students don’t think so

A mix of students are taking Maurice Cowley’s college-level African American Studies class. (Photo: Naseem Rakha)

Three days after the nation honored Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education announced that no Florida public high school would be allowed to teach the nation’s first and only Advanced Placement or AP African American Studies course at the college level. She asserted that the “course lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law.”

That law, signed into effect by Gov. Ron Desantis last spring, states in part that, “a person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part.” Fair enough. No one should be instructed to feel any particular emotion. A good education is one that teaches students to seek information and data, and then discuss and evaluate it rationally and critically. Which is exactly what AP courses are designed to do, including the African American Studies course.

AP African American Studies has been in the works for 10 years, and is finally concluding a one-year pilot in 60 schools nationwide. Portland’s McDaniel High School is home to Oregon’s only pilot project class. There, instructor Maurice Cowley resides over an enthusiastic group of 33 students — some Black, some white, some Hispanic, some never having even thought of taking an AP class before.

On the day I observed the class, Cowley began by asking students which of two posters was “more dope”: a black, red, yellow and green BLACK HISTORY IS AMERICAN HISTORY poster, or a black and white poster saying BLACK HISTORY IS PART OF AMERICAN HISTORY?

A freewheeling discussion ensued. What are the Pan African colors? What do they represent? What’s the difference between being American history or being part of it? Can you talk about African American history without talking about American history? And, perhaps more importantly, can you talk about American history without talking about the history of African Americans and what they did to help define the country? Read more