Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Black History Month, the College Board, and Accountability

        The continued attacks on studying Black History have ramped up, even as we begin a month dedicated to celebrating that very history. If you haven't heard - in late January, Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Department of Education rejected the Advanced Placement course on African American studies. DeSantis called the move the “pursuit of truth,” accusing the AP course as being “the imposition of ideology or the advancement of a political agenda.” Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. went further, calling it "woke indoctrination masquerading as education."

        While the College Board has insisted that it neither “indoctrinates students” or “has bowed to political pressure,” the new revisions to the course they announced this week are substantial and would allow the course to be taught without engaging with many of the most pressing and important themes with which our nation is currently wrestling. Giulia Heyward and Juma Sei documented those changes, included:

“Of the units that appeared in the pilot course, those about intersectionality and activism, Black feminist literary thought, and Black Queer Studies are not in the final curriculum. / The framework also drops its exploration of the origins, mission and global influence of the Movement for Black Lives. Instead, Black Lives Matter is listed alongside Black conservatism as a sample course project, labeled ‘Illustrative Only.’ / With these revisions, works by scholars including Roderick Ferguson, a professor of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, are now removed from the curriculum entirely.”

          All of this looks like a collective admission that we, and especially White folks, are unwilling to honestly engage with our past. It is too easy a thing to want a version of history that doesn’t cost us anything in the present. But one of the gifts of studying history is to better understand ourselves now: how we arrived here and how we want to respond to this moment. As I wrote about in 2021, "although the outrage over 1619 or Critical Race Theory feels new, it’s important for us to remember that there is nothing new about these kinds of controversies." In fact, we have long been stuck in an ongoing conflict between different visions of civic education. As Adam Laats pointed out, anti-progressive activists “were fiercely committed to a view of the curriculum that inculcated love of country, reinforced traditional gender roles and family structures, allowed no alternatives to capitalism, and granted religion a central role in civic life.” 

        This is a key reason why the attempts to block the full study of Black History are so significant:  

" ... these different visions of civic education keeps controversies repeating on a loop, using eerily similar language to attack educators, historians, social scientists, activists, and others advocating for just, equitable, and compassionate communities. ... The social sciences offer tools to help us avoid this kind of trap, encouraging us to think and live reflectively. We want to learn, change, and grow. And this means we should expect these controversies to keep coming, generation after generation, until there is a shift in our national educational culture. As part of this process, we can create more opportunities and support for teachers and administrators from marginalized communities, who have often been most responsible for keeping true civic education alive. ...  There is no reason to be threatened with history if you are willing to learn from it. At its best, history is the study of the human experience, giving us humility in the face of our mistakes (from the most laughable to the most cruel) and hope in the face of our greatest challenges. It is an opportunity to remember that we are making history right now, and we can make a better future not only possible, but something real."

      Thank you for being part of community that honors history, including Black History. Thank you for being part of a community that refuses to stand idly by. And thank you for being part of the ongoing work of learning how to live together in ways in which we help, instead of hurt, one another.