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College Board to release framework for AP African American studies course on Feb. 1


In just a few days, the College Board will release its official framework for its Advanced Placement courses for African American Studies. The pilot version, currently taught at 60 schools across the country, became a target of some lawmakers who want to limit how teachers approach discussions about history and race. Emily Files from member station WUWM visited a Milwaukee high school that's offering the classes here.

EMILY FILES, BYLINE: Golda Meir High School is located in downtown Milwaukee. Nearly two-thirds of the students here are Black. During a recent lesson in the new AP course, teacher Alex Janke pulls up a photograph of Jamaican activist Marcus Garvey. Garvey supported the Back to Africa movement in the 1920s.

ALEX JANKE: We've looked at this a couple of times throughout this class, right? We've talked about people who supported separatist ideas and people who supported more, like, accommodationist or integrationist ideas as well.

FILES: The class of 20 high school seniors reads a speech in which Garvey denounces European colonization in Africa. Janke asks what stood out, and student Mark Guerrero (ph) speaks up.

MARK GUERRERO: White people are trying to take over Africa, which is where literally Black people come from, you know. You don't treat Black people right, but you're trying to take over their land.

FILES: While today's lesson is about a separatist thinker, Janke says the course is much more expansive.

JANKE: We talk about arts. We talk about cultural trends. We talk about the diaspora outside of the United States as well, which might not be included in some of the other classes that I've taught before.

FILES: AP classes like this one allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. The College Board, which creates AP courses, has long offered U.S. history and European history. This course on African American Studies has been in the works for a decade. University of Wisconsin education professor Erika Bullock says it's long overdue.

ERIKA BULLOCK: It is possible as a Black student to go through an entire K-12 experience and not read a book by a Black author or not experience a Black teacher or not understand how Black people around the world have contributed to things like mathematics and science.

FILES: Officials elsewhere have been highly critical of the course. The Florida Department of Education banned it, saying it has a political agenda. The College Board said in a statement that AP students are never required to agree with a certain opinion or ideology. Back in Milwaukee, Janke wraps up the day's lesson.

JANKE: We're going to talk more as we go along here that the overwhelming part of the civil rights movement disagreed with what Marcus Garvey was saying - people like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois that we've talked about before.

FILES: Student Devin Hayden says what she's learned here is much deeper than traditional social studies classes.

DEVIN HAYDEN: I think taking this class really helped me understand that there was a broader history besides slavery and civil rights movement, that we can all, you know, stand to know about. And being able to learn about all of that really just kind of made my education a lot more wholesome.

FILES: So far, there hasn't been any backlash to the course in Wisconsin. Student Kalia Humphrey (ph) says it's frustrating that it's controversial elsewhere.

KALIA HUMPHREY: I think that by hiding history and, like, not letting it be taught, we just end up repeating the cycle.

FILES: A cycle, she says, of not knowing the country's full history. The College Board will release the official framework for the AP African American Studies course on February 1, the first day of Black History Month. For NPR News, I'm Emily Files in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Files