March 31, 2023

Two Democratic governors jumped at the chance to go after Republican Governor Ron DeSantis (FL) for his recent ban on an Advanced Placement African American Studies course, with one vowing to enforce teaching the course in full in his state.

Governor DeSantis rejected the proposed course through a letter to the College Board from the Florida Department of Education’s (FDOE) Office of Articulation on January 12. The pilot course would have surveyed Black American history “from the medieval kingdoms of West Africa to the ongoing challenges and achievements of the contemporary moment,” according to its coursework, featuring works from Black scholars, authors and artists such as Kimberle Crenshaw, Angela Davis, bell hooks and even Beyonce. 

The FDOE, however, wouldn’t have it, stating that the course as it was introduced “significantly lacks educational value.”

Joining a chorus of critics across the country, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker responded with his own letter to the College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement courses in public schools across the U.S., urging them not to accept DeSantis’s rejection. Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom slammed the Florida conservative for propagating his war against so-called “Critical Race Theory” as the country faces another spike in mass shootings.

“I am extremely troubled by the recent news reports that claim Governor DeSantis is pressuring the College Board to change the AP African American Studies course in order to fit Florida’s racist and homophobic laws,” Pritzker wrote in his Jan. 25 letter.

He implored the organization to “refuse to bow to political pressure that would ask you to rewrite our nation’s true, if sometimes unpleasant, history.”

The Illinois Democrat also expressed a commitment to ensuring that any AP course in Black studies will include “a factual accounting of history, including the role played by black queer Americans,” “this nation’s foundation built on slavery,” “the Civil War,” and “the decades of rebuilding and efforts of black Americans to continue their fight for equality and equity to this day.”

Newsom, meanwhile, lambasted Republicans for ginning up culture wars on how to teach race in schools rather than focusing on gun safety.

“The number one death for children last year was gun-related, and you didn’t do a damn thing,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “Congress is sitting on this, but you’ve got politicians that are banning not assault rifles, but the word ‘Latinx’.”

Pritzker, Newsom and DeSantis  are all potential 2024 contenders.  DeSantis, however,  has used his pulpit as governor in recent years to elevate his national profile, passing laws and proposing policy changes in Florida that are dripping with MAGAworld grievances. It’s also widely believed that he will launch a primary challenge against Donald Trump in 2024. So, the more MAGA he can  prove to be now, the better. 

Pritzker and are so far the most high-profile Democrats to rebuke DeSantis’ latest culture war, but scholars, lawyers, and activists across the country have offered their own criticisms. Noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump, alongside three local AP high school students and several state legislators, threatened the governor on Wednesday with a lawsuit if he doesn’t allow schools to teach the course.

“We’re here to give notice to Governor DeSantis that if he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African American studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida that these three young people,” he said, motioning to the students, “will be the lead plaintiffs in a historic lawsuit.”

The College Board has since announced that they’ll release an updated version of the course on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, as part of its normal protocol. Before a new AP course becomes official, the organization takes in feedback from high schools and colleges across 60 cities to determine how to improve the course.

In a Thursday letter, the College Board told its membership, comprised of school districts and universities, that no lawmakers will be able to weigh in on the final version coming next week.

“It is a remarkable course that explores the richness and depth of African American history and culture,” it continued. “We invite everyone to read the framework for themselves when it is released; it is a historic document that deserves your attention.”

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