Terrence Wilson, J.D.By Terrence Wilson, J.D. • February 27, 2024 •

Leaders, particularly in the Southern United States, are restricting students’ access to the rich history and contributions of Black Americans. Actions such as the Arkansas Department of Education’s refusal to grant high school credit for Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies (APAAS) and Florida’s outright ban on the course are limiting the accessibility of this crucial knowledge. Beyond political posturing, these measures have real implications for the ability of Black students to access and succeed in college.

The claim by the Florida Department of Education that the AP African American Studies course “lacks educational value” is unfounded. The field of African American Studies has existed since the 1960s, with numerous colleges and universities offering dedicated courses, departments, or entire programs.

The AP African American Studies course being banned has undergone a decade-long development, with input from over two dozen experts in the field. It explores the diversity of the African American experience, covering topics from early African kingdoms to contemporary challenges and achievements. By the course’s conclusion, students are expected to apply lenses from different disciplines, evaluate key concepts, identify intersections of race, gender, and class, and analyze perspectives in text-based, data, and visual sources to develop well-supported arguments for real-world problems. These goals and skills are valuable for any student, making the course worth teaching. Moreover, the potential impact on Black students further justifies its inclusion in the curriculum.

Research indicates that Black and Latino students are underrepresented in AP courses, with tangible consequences. Studies show that taking AP courses and earning college credit in high school increases post-secondary success and is associated with higher graduation rates.

Obtaining college credit in high school through AP classes is also linked to timely completion of college degrees, reducing overall educational costs. These findings underscore the tangible benefits students gain when allowed access to such courses.

To counter efforts to limit access to African American Studies, students, parents, and communities must advocate the value of these courses. In Texas, students testified in favor of a statewide course in African American Studies in front of the Texas Education Agency, demonstrating the impact of community activism.

Communities should organize to demand change from educational leaders and establish community-driven African American Studies and history classes, mirroring the efforts of the Task Force for Teaching Our Own History in Florida.

In this moment, Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the program leading to Black History Month, has a message that should resonate: “Through our efforts, we are going back to that beautiful history, and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” Communities should draw inspiration from the past to overcome current challenges and ensure an inclusive education for all.