AP courses could clash with laws that target critical race theory

Scientific theories to justify racism. Laws and Supreme Court decisions that denied equal rights to black people. The imperialist view that the Anglo-Saxons were called by God to civilize the “savages” of the world.

These topics could all sound like material from a course on systemic racism or critical race theory, which includes the idea that racism is embedded in American legal systems and policies.

In fact, these topics are all part of the College Board’s popular Advanced Placement Course in United States History.

At a time when state legislatures, mostly led by Republicans, have passed a series of laws to restrict how public school teachers can educate students about America’s racist past, I fear AP classes as the history of the United States and the government and politics of the United States are in jeopardy. The danger is posed by those who support various new state laws against teaching “divisive” subjects and critical race theory.

I raise this concern as a researcher who studies AP courses and the ways educators can better prepare students to participate in American democracy.

Recent developments show that my concerns about the future of Advanced Placement are not unfounded. For example, two school districts in Oklahoma had their accreditation downgraded for violating the state law against critical race theory. While these cases don’t involve AP classes, they both show that people are really attacking school districts on critical issues related to race theory.

Educators in Tennessee, Missouri, Texas and elsewhere have been fired or forced to resign over discussions of race and racism. Across the country, teachers are teaching in fear.

Fear can be heightened for educators teaching AP classes, which — by their very design — require teachers to deal with sensitive and controversial topics that deal with issues of race.

Preparing for a confrontation

These controversial topics would include Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. criticizes what he calls an “unjust law”.

“Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application,” King wrote. He added that such laws exist when those in power impose laws against a minority that they themselves do not respect. Historians and critical race scholars regard King’s letter as an early example of critical race theory. The letter is featured in AP English Language and Composition.

I’m not the only one who takes seriously how the AP course requirements could contradict laws against critical race theory.

Consider a notice that the College Board itself issued in March 2022. The notice states that courses that do not cover required curriculum topics will lose their AP designation.

This could affect the college plans of a large number of American students, who rely on AP courses for college credit while still in high school. This saves students money by skipping some college courses.

The Advanced Placement program has been widely adopted across the country. As of fall 2021, 32 states had statewide or systemwide AP credit policies that require colleges to award credit to students who score high enough on their AP exams.

The College Board reports that more than 1.17 million American public high school graduates in the Class of 2021 — 34.9% — have taken at least one AP exam. Despite the disruptions of the pandemic, that figure is up from the roughly 898,000 – or 28.6% – who made it in the class of 2011.

Despite laws that seek to control how teachers can discuss race and the history of racism in the United States, the College Board plans to pilot a new AP course in African American Studies in the fall of 2022. in about 60 schools.

Precautions taken

Anticipating the potential for conflicts with the College Board, the Yorba Linda School Board in Orange County, Calif., exempted advanced-level courses from restrictions it enacted on classroom conversations about race.

A College Board official told me that to date, there have been no school cases deleting content in AP history. It remains to be seen how long this will be the case.

Historically, there have been instances where books have been removed from the reading list for AP classes. For example, in 2007, Jefferson County Public Schools — a school district that covers Louisville, Kentucky — eliminated Toni Morrison’s school. Beloved of an AP English class at Eastern High School. Belovedalong with other books by Toni Morrison, are among the most frequently referenced texts on the AP Literature and Composition exam.

When states ban critical race theory, it potentially affects more than PA history and PA English. AP US Government and Politics, for example, requires educators to teach students about race-based gerrymandering and different perspectives on affirmative action. The AP Psychology course outline includes conversations about how race affects criminal trials.

Vague and contradictory

Some of the new laws that ban critical race theory are confusing and contradictory. A new law in Georgia, for example, includes systemic racism as a “divisive issue” that “any curriculum … may not teach.” However, the bill explicitly allows teachers to explain how “the enactment and enforcement of laws” can lead to “oppression, segregation and discrimination”.

This contradiction has the potential to create uncertainty and unease among PA teachers.

A bill passed in Texas states that “no teacher shall be compelled … to discuss current events or widely debated and currently controversial public policy issues.” Controversy, however, is a centerpiece of AP English Language and Composition. The program requires teachers to examine controversial issues and help students “develop a critical and informed understanding of controversy and the authority to enter the conversation themselves.”

Critical choices

If people are complaining that AP classes are violating laws against critical race theory, the College Board may have to show it’s serious when it says it will strip the AP designation from schools that suppress the material. required of the AP program.

Research is on the side of the College Board. Studies show that discussions of race and racism help prepare students to participate in America’s multiracial democracy. There are also academic benefits. A Stanford University study found that a ninth-grade ethnic studies course increased black and Hispanic students’ grade point average by 1.4 points and their attendance by 21 percentage points. The authors of this study say the results indicate broader academic benefits of culturally relevant courses for students, such as lower dropout rates.

Given that many parents and members of the public see value in taking AP classes, this could force opponents of critical race theory to make a crucial choice: Do they want to limit classroom discussions about race? Or do they want to keep AP and all of its benefits intact for the sake of American students? The College Board has made it clear that it cannot have it both ways.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About Norman Griggs

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