The Fate of Teaching Black History in US Education

Martin Luther King Jr. gives a speech at a demonstration. Getty Images.

By Alexa Castruita


FLORIDA– Recently, Florida’s Department of Education banned the introduction of the College Board’s pilot AP African American Studies course, the latest in the state’s fight against “progressivist higher education indoctrination.” 


This ban follows a string of resistance from Florida against newer educational movements, such as the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Back in 2021, CRT was banned by the Board of Education within public schools, forcing out the implementation of history education through a transformed lens. 


State governor Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill called the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a piece of legislation meant to prohibit the instruction of topics believed by state legislators trying to indoctrinate students with progressive ideologies. The act targets CRT, teaching which concludes that racism is a systemic issue within the U.S., which has long been deeply opposed by racists and white nationalists. 


CRT is a framework that acknowledges the deep-rooted existence of racism within America’s various institutions, from legal to medical to educational. The main issue people, namely Republicans, have found with CRT is that they claim it implies and teaches white students they are all inherently racist. This is not what CRT aims to teach; rather it partly presents that white people in the U.S. benefit from deeply embedded racist practices. CRT teaches about the experiences of Black Americans since the beginnings of slavery and means to highlight how institutionalized racism has unfolded over 400 years. 


Similarly, a few years ago, an educational project also experienced backlash from Republicans when it was introduced into public schools. The New York Times 1619 Project, a journalistic series working to convey and place “the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative,” received negative attention because of similar claims from right-leaning individuals. The project’s series of essays delved into topics such as the capitalist ties to slavery plantations and the appropriation of Black music. 


The 1619 Project was later tied to the development of a public school curriculum centering around the teaching of the history of racism within the U.S. The curriculum worked to help students probe into the history of racism, Black Americans, slavery, and every way these are permanently interconnected. 


The College Board, the organization that oversees the implementation of Advanced Placement (AP) courses, has recently rolled out its newest AP course, AP African American Studies, focused on teaching high school students the history of Black Americans. Taken directly from the course description, the course aims “to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.” Through aspects such as literature, music, and science, the course hopes to center the stories of Black Americans and delve further into what it means to be a Black person in the U.S. 


Again, people find themselves fighting against these frameworks, mainly because they are unsure of what the likes of CRT and the 1619 Project mean. These things were never created to push a certain idea about the nation but to encourage students and instructors to examine the history of the U.S. and how it inextricably finds itself tied to the history of Black people and, consequently, the unraveling of racism as a larger systemic issue. 


Proponents of structures like Critical Race Theory fight for its inclusion for the sake of continuing to highlight and center the realities of racism in the nation. 


In Florida and around the nation, educators maintain that the purposeful omission of important standards like the centering of Black history only does a disservice to the students themselves. Students are unable to learn about such a crucial point in the development of American society and BIPOC students are forced to accept the marginalization of their identities. 


This is not the first time American states have consciously decided to exclude pressing issues from educational requirements, and it does not seem to stop any time soon. Previously, it was also highlighted that Florida had never instated a need to teach students about climate change—something that most Floridian students have begun to feel the dire consequences of for at least twenty years. 


With each passing day, it becomes more apparent for many BIPOC individuals what their existence as an American entails—for us, it is not the quick climb in a career nor the soft-spoken name that seems to not trip everyone up. It is the harsh understanding that the same institutions we grew up dreaming of changing—as a doctor, a lawyer, or a professor—were created to pull you down with everything in their might. What more will it take for BIPOC children to not to be robbed of learning about their histories, just like they do about their peers?


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