Janae Pierre: I'm Janae Pierre, in for Melissa Harris-Perry, and this is The Takeaway.
Janae Pierre: As Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, eyes a likely 2024 presidential bid, he's become one of the loudest voices opposing open discussion and education on public health, gender identity, and race. Governor DeSantis recently announced a plan to block diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in Florida colleges. It's in line with the state's Stop Woke Act of 2022, which assumes that critical race theory is running rampant throughout politics and education and that programs focused on race and diversity are discriminatory and harm students by limiting discourse. The act also strictly limits what and how American history can be taught in Florida classrooms, especially when it comes to oppression and racism.
Governor Ron DeSantis: We believe in education, not indoctrination.
Janae Pierre: In January, Florida's Department of Education rejected an Advanced Placement course in African American studies. The course is undergoing a pilot phase in 60 high schools across the country, including one Florida school. AP classes like these help high school students earn college credit. This specific course was created by the college board as an elective for students. The proposed curriculum saw students learning about key frameworks in Black history, ranging from a revolutionary Angolan queen to Black Lives Matter, and interacting with the work of foundational figures, including Malcolm X and Bell Hooks, but according to DeSantis--
Governor Ron DeSantis: This course on Black history, what's one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now, who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?
Janae Pierre: Last week, the college board announced it had revised its plan for the course, and the omissions are somewhat glaring, gone are voices like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Angela Davis as our discussions of queer history, Black Lives Matter, and movements for reparations. Although the college board and the committee of teachers who develop the course say these changes were not made because of political pressure, others have pointed out that they do reflect the main complaints of the Florida DOE.
Governor Ron DeSantis: When you look to see, they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that's a political agenda.
Janae Pierre: Here with me now is John Diamond, Professor of Sociology and Education Policy at Brown University. John, welcome to The Takeaway.
John Diamond: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Janae Pierre: Glad to have you. Florida governor, DeSantis, called the AP course an African American studies indoctrination. What do you think he's actually saying there?
John Diamond: I think the claim is that if people are exposed to this kind of material, that they're being indoctrinated, that they're being taught material that isn't essential knowledge that people need to know, and that they're being encouraged to engage in some type of behavior that he's opposed to.
I think it's important to recognize that Governor DeSantis and a lot of folks on the right have been pushing this anti-critical race theory set of arguments and largely in an effort to gain political leverage but also to support broader systems of oppression like white supremacy and heteropatriarchy. I think the challenge for us is to parse what they're really trying to say and what their larger agenda is.
Janae Pierre: Why is a separate African American studies course necessary, and why is this content not more integrated into other high school courses?
John Diamond: I think one of the challenges for us in thinking about these kinds of courses is that the history of African Americans or women of other groups that have been marginalized in society has been largely left out of the core curriculum of many schools. Many schools are rooted in a history that largely emphasizes the accomplishments and experiences and histories and philosophies of folks from Europe. Courses like this grow out of a larger movement that push for the creation of Black studies and other studies departments.
There was a lot of resistance when those departments were created. If you think about the origins of Black studies at San Francisco State, there was violent resistance to the creation of those areas of study. This is consistent with the history of trying to silence those voices, but I think the learning and the engagement that can happen when people are exposed to a broader set of history is good for our students.
Janae Pierre: Help us get a better understanding of the history of Black studies courses in the US. I'm thinking, when did we start to see those courses develop, and also where?
John Diamond: Well, we started really seeing those develop at San Francisco State where students pushed for the creation of these kinds of spaces of African or Black studies. Again, as I mentioned, there was a violent resistance to that effort but ultimately, those courses got created. Over time, you started seeing the emergence of more studies departments that cut across racial groups that included departments that focus on gender and women's studies. That created a space for engagement around issues that had been kept out of the curriculum of many colleges and universities.
Janae Pierre: I want to talk about the impact that a course like this could have on students of color. What does it mean for Black students to have a course like this?
John Diamond: I think it's huge. It helps to legitimize the areas of study that have been largely legitimized in higher education. It's part of what students will be exposed to when they get to universities and colleges after leaving high school. It establishes this is a legitimate area of study for folks in high school. I think it's really important to have these avenues for learning alongside other areas of study. The other thing that's really important is that ethnic studies courses have over several years been studied and we've been trying to understand the impact of having these courses on students.
Recent work by Sade Bonilla and colleagues shows that in San Francisco, ethnic studies courses actually increased graduation rates, increased attendance, and increased college going for students who had not been achieving high levels and were marginalized racially in schools. Not only do these courses provide students with a way to engage more deeply in schooling and education, but they also provide opportunities to enhance their higher education possibilities and potential. I think a course in African American studies at the AP level would just deepen that opportunity for students to engage more deeply and enhance their long-term educational opportunities.
Janae Pierre: After a quick pause, we'll have more on Florida education policy with John Diamond right after this.
Janae Pierre: I'm Janae Pierre, and I'm talking with John Diamond, Professor of Sociology and Education Policy at Brown University. John, could you walk us through the process that went into creating this AP pilot course in African American studies?
John Diamond: This has been a long process. The people who are involved in it tell me that they had the vision for this for a decade. They went through a really systematic process where they invited in people who had been teaching African American studies, people who knew the field. I think the number was 300 people who had participated in the creation of the course. They were a core group of people who came together and spent a lot of time thinking about the course. It involved educators around the country who had backgrounds in African American studies and African American history, faculty members from many universities.
It's been a long process, a long vetting process. They've been piloting the course in, I think, about 60 schools across the country. Part of the changes that we see, I think, have been misrepresented to some extent. Queer theory, issues of critical race theory are still part of what students may be exposed to in the course. There is a framework that actually includes a lot of information that relates to the history of African Americans but also relates to the important role that lesbian women have played in the creation of frameworks that help us understand what's going on in society and diagnosing challenges that are faced by groups in a way that is intersectional.
I think when people talk about what's been taken out of the course, it's part of a long process through which teachers, students, and educators have been piloting the course and refining it over time. At least from what I know, the college board has not taken out material from the course and removed it completely. There's a large digital resource guide that teachers can use to teach core concepts that's still in the curriculum. Even some of the names that have been mentioned that have been taken out are actually still accessible and part of what students can be exposed to in the curriculum.
Janae Pierre: You're talking about names like Angela Davis and Kimberlé Crenshaw, of course.
John Diamond: Yes.
Janae Pierre: How does this move by Governor DeSantis to reject the pilot curriculum dovetail with the so-called anti-Woke agenda he and the Republican Party have been on?
John Diamond: I think it really does tie to a larger agenda that's really about responding to challenges, to forms of oppression like white supremacy, like heteropatriarchy. I think what folks are really building on is the executive order that former president Trump signed in 2020. Much of the language from these anti-CRT bills can be tied back to the language that was used in that executive order.
I think this is all in some ways in response to efforts to resist these forms of oppression. The large mobilization of activity around George Floyd's murder in some ways sparked these forms of resistance. I think it's largely about silencing dissent. It's largely about keeping certain voices off of the table, and it's also tied to forms of maintaining power like voter suppression across many locations. You have states across the country, some 40 states introducing legislation to exclude material on critical race theory.
Some of these same states are also trying to limit the ability of folks of color to vote in elections. A lot of this is tied to a deeper process, not just of someone like Governor DeSantis trying to get elected but a larger process of folks trying to disenfranchise voters and maintain power in the hands of certain people in the society.
Janae Pierre: This news hit just as Black History Month began, and the official theme for this year is Black Resistance. What does Black Resistance mean to you today?
John Diamond: I think Black Resistance really means being able to create a world that is safe, to create a world where our voices are heard, where we can create a world that looks like the world of racial justice that people espouse wanting to see. It means resisting in many different ways. It means on a daily basis resisting racial microaggressions or those moments of people disrespecting folks based on race. It means larger processes of trying to change organizations and institutions to function in more equitable ways and it means challenging efforts to silence dissent and our ability to resist these forms of oppression that are clearly present but often denied.
Janae Pierre: John Diamond is a Professor of Sociology and Education Policy at Brown University. His book is called Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools. John, thanks for joining us.
John Diamond: Thank you.
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