Africana Studies for All

The College Board has created a new AP class for African-American studies. The course will be piloted across twenty different school districts throughout the coming school year throughout the nation.

I think this is a really good idea. However, I believe that an African-American studies course should be a non-AP course in addition to being an AP course. One reason is because Black children are underrepresented in advanced placement or gifted classes—although Black children are absolutely capable of completing advanced placement work, because it’s often times the racism that keeps them out, but I digress.

The reality is that Black children should have the opportunity to take such a class, AP or not.

While it is absolutely true that all students in such an AP class would benefit from taking this class, it’s even more important for Black children to take an African-American studies course due to the research that speaks to the benefits such a course lends to Black students. Studies show that Black children having a positive view of themselves racially tend to do better academically. One way to do that is to teach Black history; teaching it truthfully and year-round, while making the class mandatory.

I teach AP U.S. History to sophomore students in my school district. I’d love to teach a Black history course in AP, but reassured, I am teaching Black history in my course already. But I know that the instruction they’re getting from me isn’t necessarily what their peers, who aren’t in AP, are receiving.

No shade to their teachers; I understand that my teaching praxis is rooted in my experiences and history as a Black person. However, I can honestly say, all of our students could benefit from a course in Black history.

Consider districts like the School District of Philadelphia and the Cherry Hill School District in New Jersey; where each have created a Black history course and made it a mandatory course for graduation.

Moving forward, students that attend or who eventually will attend high school in these districts must take a Black history course to get their diploma. Cherry Hill’s school district has a population of 11,000 students; Philadelphia’s has a population of close to 200,000.

Had this course only been an AP course, the vast majority of students in the district would not have had the opportunity to formally learn Black history as a standalone course. Even if the course was available to all students, if it were an elective, students could have avoided learning Black history if they chose. In my experiences, elective courses aren’t offered if not enough students sign up for them. Therefore, if an elective, Black history in these districts, would be subject to student interest rather than made a priority by district officials. Thankfully, that is not the case.

As great a decision it is to create a mandatory Black history course, that doesn’t excuse teaching Black history throughout the year in other content areas; teacher should be doing that anyway. I get some will make the excuse, “well that information can be covered in the Black history course.” But if we don’t mind overlapping information in different content areas, let alone in history classes, we can discuss Black history in different courses, even if redundant.

Thankfully in New Jersey, there’s the Amistad Commission, to ensure that Black history is taught throughout the year in various content areas; the commission is backed by State legislation.

A course in Black history course can dig deeper into not only the events of history, but also into the backstory of history that precipitated the accomplishments of Black people and the current state of Black life in the United States as well as exposing students to Black humanity within an anti-Black society. That’s something all students (all people) need, no matter their race and/or ethnicity.

But, as mentioned earlier Black students can certainly benefit from this.

The reality is that Black students, as well as Latinx students, are often shut out of opportunities for advanced placement courses. According to an Education Trust report, Black students make up 15% of high schoolers nationwide, but only 9% of students enrolled in at least one AP course. According to the NJ Department of Education databank, the higher the population of Black students in a school, the lower the lower the population of students are enrolled in AP courses.

So, while a course on Black history in AP is great, Black students would be less likely to take the course due to the systemic racism inherent in the system of how students qualify for AP; how ironic. Then again, it’s not if you’d rather that the academic growth of Black children not be dependent upon them learning Black history, but I digress.  

While I commend the College Board for creating this course, state department of education, particularly their curriculum departments, must create a course on Black history course students, and train its teachers to properly disseminate information about Black history. In addition to that, it is the responsibility of those Departments of Education to instruct teachers on how to teach, as well as assess Black history – along with how to integrate Black history in all content areas throughout the year. This course is wonderful, but it does not excuse other teachers from the Teaching Black History.

This is just one weapon to fight against white supremacy, not a silver bullet.

What do you think?

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