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Arkansas drops AP African American Studies course

LA Johnson
The College Board-designed class was scrapped 48 hours before the start of school.

Just 48 hours before the first day of school, the Arkansas Department of Education announced that Advanced Placement African American Studies wouldn't count towards graduation. They said they’re reviewing the course for possible indoctrination.

Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on Fox News to explain her administration's decision to de-prioritize AP African American studies.

“We cannot perpetuate a lie to our students, and push this propaganda leftist agenda, teaching our kids to hate America, and hate one another," she said.

Sanders has not pointed to anything specific in the AP African American Studies curriculum. The Arkansas Department of Education notified teachers that they’d deleted the course code for AP African American Studies. That means students can’t get graduation credit for taking it.

The governor’s alma mater, Little Rock Central High School, is known for its robust AP offerings. That’s where senior Jack Baker took the pilot course last school year. He says it’s a straightforward history class which encourages students to think about different ideas.

“We were offered alternative perspective, and we were not told that this was somehow like immediately correct,” he said. “It was more discussion-based and viewpoint-oriented.”

The class was also a positive experience for senior Sarah Tarawally. She said she never felt hatred toward America while studying the course. She says she enjoyed learning about different historical figures like Sojourner Truth and local civil rights activist Daisy Bates.

“It made it fun, it made it easy, because you were learning about something you had never learned before," she said. "It wasn't just bookwork, it wasn't just talking about history, it was something that engaged everyone.”

The pilot AP African American Studies curriculum has four units, starting with ancient Africa, covering the slave trade, the Civil War, and finishing with the Civil Rights movement.

Last year, 60 schools across the country offered the pilot course to students. This year, the class is expanding to hundreds more.

State Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said she did not have a Black history class when she was growing up in a segregated school. So when she became a teacher, she had to incorporate African American history into her social studies curriculum on her own.

She says she wanted all her students to feel included in U.S. history.

“White kids, Black kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids all need to know what a wonderful role they have played in the development in this country,” she said.

Chesterfield asked Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva to explain the decision to scrap the AP African American studies course.

“I sent this text to Secretary Oliva, and I asked him simply ‘Why doesn't my history count?’ And his answer was, ‘We’re working to get together some information on that.'”

The Arkansas Department of Education echoed this in a statement. They said they are reviewing the class materials to see if they contain so-called “Critical Race Theory” or indoctrination.

The College Board, which offers the AP class, says there is nothing in any of its courses that is about indoctrination. Brandi Waters helped design the AP African American Studies course. It’s still a young academic discipline, even though it’s been around for about 70 years.

“What we are really trying to do is showcase how much has been discovered by this field since its inception and prepare students to see that broader world through their own perspective,” she said.

Six Arkansas schools that planned to offer the pilot course this year said they will still do so, but only as a local elective and not an official AP class.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.