How high achievers could pay the price for restrictions on teaching about race

College Board, which provides AP classes in dozens of subjects, warns of the dangers of censorship and indoctrination.
By: | March 7, 2022

State lawmakers scrambling to restrict the teaching about race and racism, LGBTQ issues and other topics risk robbing their schools of the ability to offer advanced placement classes.

In an update to its “What AP Stands For” guidelines, the College Board does not mention Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill or parents’ rights measures in other states, but it does declare support for diverse voices and strong opposes censorship and indoctrination. “Teachers and students deserve clear expectations,”  says the College Board, which provides college-level AP classes in dozens of subjects.”Confusion about what is permitted in the classroom disrupts teachers and students as they navigate demanding work.”

For example, a biology class that does not cover concepts of evolution—a key part of college courses—could not qualify as an AP course. “If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities,” the College Board says.

AP courses also are designed to teach students to take an open-minded approach to the histories and cultures of different peoples. And all students in AP classes must be “listened to and respected” in an environment that creates space for a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. “The study of different nationalities, cultures, religions, races and ethnicities is essential within a variety of academic disciplines,” the College Board says. “Students are encouraged to evaluate arguments but not one another.”

This approach, however, has been criticized as indoctrination by Republican governors and state lawmakers who have targeted LGBTQ books and teaching about issues of gender and sexual identity. In attacking critical race theory and the teaching of the legacy of racism in America, these officials have warned that certain instruction could make white students feel bad about themselves and their heritage. The course description for AP English Literature says AP students are expected to analyze but not subscribe to any set of cultural or political values. “No points on an AP Exam are awarded for agreeing with a viewpoint,”  the College Board says. “AP students are not required to feel certain ways about themselves or the course content.”

Finally, the College Board restated that students and their parents can choose whether to enroll in AP courses, which are developed by teams of educators from K-12 and higher education.

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Regardless, officials in many red states continue to promote bills that would give parents more power to narrow school curriculum, particularly around the teaching of history, social studies, literature and sexual education. Just last week, the Georgia House of Representatives passed one bill that would ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” and another that would, according to the Associated Press, give parents many rights they already have. Other bills still under consideration would allow parents to ask their schools to remove “inappropriate” materials, the Associated Press reported.

Even without recent efforts by the GOP to narrow K-12 curricula, there’s evidence that schools were not teaching the histories of Black Americans and other marginalized groups effectively or comprehensively. For Black Americans, family and friends are the primary sources of information on their history in the U.S., a February survey by the RAND Corporation revealed. Only 23% of Black Americans who said they know at least a little about U.S. Black history learned it from K-12 schools, the survey found.

A narrowing of the curriculum is a dangerous waste of resources at a time when public schools and elected officials should be solely focused on helping students bounce back academically and emotionally from the disruptions of the pandemic, says Lawrence M. Paska, director of the National Council for the Social Studies.

“It’s baffling to us that we’re talking about banning books rather than talking about what books and what instructional resources we need to help teachers implement their curriculum and help kids achieve standards,” Paska says. “We have to stop with the deficit model of what should be taken away and look at what we should put in place—this is a time for uplifting the teacher workforce because they are professionals.”

And students may be left disengaged by a sanitized curriculum that ignores current events and issues that matter most to many young people, he adds. “Kids don’t want to hear we solved all the problems,” Pasksa says. “Kids want to hear there are issues of equity we’re still walking through and how they can contribute to the future of our society.”