Sounding Off: AP African American Studies is a great addition, but APUSH still needs to include more Black history

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American novelist Toni Morrison delivers a speech to an audience. The AP African American Studies course highlights Toni Morrison and her contributions to the U.S. along with other people of African descent who have had an impact on the U.S. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Starting this year, 60 schools will be piloting a new AP course: African American Studies. According to an Aug. 22 article in Time Magazine, the course will consist of the following:  

“The AP African American Studies course is interdisciplinary—not only diving into the history of the African continent, but also covering uplifting topics such as African American music and the significance of the Marvel Black Panther movie. It looks back at more than 400 years of contributions to the U.S. by people of African descent, going as far back as 1513, when Juan Garrido became the first known African in North America while on a Spanish expedition of what’s now Florida.” 

This is a great new addition to the list of “History and Social Sciences” offerings from the College Board, and I want to make it very clear that this article is not a criticism of the new course, but rather an evaluation of an old one. 

The African American Studies course will be available for schools to implement nationwide by “the 2024-25 school year,” according to the New York Times. In addition to this, however, it should never feel like this is enough for schools to implement without making the rest of their curriculums more inclusive. For example, AP U.S. History, the second most popular AP class in 2021 according to the College Board, has historically had problems with omitting more equitable curriculum frameworks. 

In 2014, College Board presented the first re-framing attempt of the APUSH curriculum since 2006, which attempted to “adopt racial and gender conflict as the dominant paradigm of historical development.” This version of the curriculum included new vocabulary, a more fleshed-out explanation of bias, and generally presented a less staunchly pro-America position. Unfortunately, due to severe backlash, this version was replaced by the current framework, circa 2015, which “appeased conservatives by dialing back the emphasis on social conflict and presenting a less ideological view of history,” as explained by Dr. David Casalaspi of Michigan State University. 

The content that will be offered in the African American Studies AP course isn’t the only example of what other adjacent courses should be offering, as the fact that the course exists at all should be motivation to try for an APUSH framework akin to the 2014 model again. 

According to the Time article, high schools have been pushing for an AP class similar to the new one for over a decade, but colleges pushed back by saying they would not grant college credit for passing exam scores. When interviewed, AP program head Trevor Packer said that the answer from universities has changed since, to “a resounding yes,” and this change of heart seems to have been all that was needed to move forward with the new AP. Now, due to the fact that APUSH will likely still fill more of a history requirement role and AP African American Studies will likely be offered on a more elective basis, reception may be different, but clearly the goalposts have moved from where they were in 2015. 

Whether there is political or educational will to create an APUSH curriculum that represents all Americans or not, it is absolutely imperative that people push for this. There will be a lucky few who are privileged enough to be able to take both AP African American Studies and APUSH, but many will have to choose between one or the other, with APUSH most likely taking precedence due to the requirement status it frequently holds. If APUSH continues to present a predominantly white narrative for which students learn American history from, any student who isn’t able to take both APs will miss out on much of the knowledge that will be presented in AP African American Studies, and that’s simply not fair to Black people, future high school students or society as a whole.

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