The Bankrupt Vision of the College BoardRoundup
tags: Florida, Advanced Placement, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis, College Board
Annie Abrams is the author of Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students, out this spring from the Johns Hopkins University Press.
The College Board’s new AP course in African American studies was meant to be a crowning achievement for the organization. “We hope it will broaden the invitation to Advanced Placement and inspire students with a fuller appreciation of the American story,” said Trevor Packer, senior vice president for AP and instruction, back in August. Days before the organization revealed the course’s framework, a College Board letter called it “a historic document that deserves your attention.”
The past month’s events have thrown the coronation into disarray. The College Board had repeated contact with the Florida Department of Education before it overhauled the course by de-emphasizing materials by scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and terms like “systemic” and “womanism.” “We wanted this course to be adopted by 50 states, and we wanted as many students and teachers as possible to be able to experience it,” Jason Manoharan, vice president for AP program development, told The Washington Post. The College Board had maintained for weeks that the changes were not the result of political pressure.
An outcry swiftly ensued. “This is a train wreck,” said UCLA’s Cheryl Harris. Yale’s David Blight told Vox, “It seems silly to take out the Black Lives Matter movement.” Northwestern’s Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor tweeted: “Just days ago @CollegeBoard held a mtg with African American Studies professors swearing that neither Florida or any politics influenced their decision to gut their AP African American Studies course. They pissed in our face & said it was raining.” In these pages Holden Thorp accused the College Board of caginess. An open letter, signed by over a thousand faculty members in African American studies, called on the College Board to “assume a leadership role in fighting against widespread efforts by states to censor antiracist thought and expression.” Writing in Slate, Jon Boeckenstedt targeted David Coleman, the organization’s chief executive, personally: “Leadership comes with responsibilities that Coleman has clearly ignored or neglected.”
Even John McWhorter, who agreed with the new course’s substance, was “unconvinced, to say the least,” that the changes had been made for the College Board’s stated reasons.
The recent firestorm has been years in the making. Students, parents, and our K-12 and higher-ed systems have empowered the College Board to be a key arbiter of both inclusion and achievement. Without anyone seeming to have noticed, the College Board has also become, through AP, the institution with the largest impact on the student perception of the liberal arts in the United States. But as the scandal over AP African American Studies makes clear, neither students, teachers, nor professors can rely on the College Board to facilitate robust academic conversation, about this or any other field.
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