Let me stipulate upfront that I’m no fan of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. He’s much too conservative for my tastes, he’s flirted with various conspiracy theories and he’s a political opportunist of the highest order.
And for reasons of political opportunism he’s decided to cast himself as the leading opponent of a constellation of bad ideas commonly referred to derisively as “woke.” I think he’s probably over-playing that hand, though it might work for him in the Republican primaries. When you survey the challenges facing the world and America, political correctness doesn’t register very high in my book. Vladimir Putin’s aggression, China’s economic and military rise, an aging world population, inflation and potential recession, hard-right quasi-fascism, an ongoing labor shortage, climate change, the threat of nuclear war… I could go on, but you get my point. Woke is irritating and it is somewhat dangerous, but it doesn’t come close to those other threats.
But having now cleared my throat, I’m glad that DeSantis took on the College Board over its proposed African American Studies AP course. The course materials, which were being piloted in 60 high schools around the country, were extensive, consisting of four units. Only the last unit, which tackled contemporary issues, came in for criticism from DeSantis and others. (You can form your own opinion by reading the proposed study guidance here.)
That last unit deserved a closer look because it did, in fact, present just one side of current debates. For example, it included arguments in favor of reparations for slavery, but no counter arguments. It included a host of hard-left writers, like Kimberle Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates, but no moderate or conservative Black thinkers, like John McWhorter, Shelby Steele or Robert Woodson.
DeSantis got his state’s education department to reject the proposed curriculum because of what was in that one unit. They had no objections to the rest. In response to DeSantis and other feedback, those most controversial topics were stripped out, but what remains is still pretty good.
Even the citadel of affluent, college-educated, white liberals (the people who profess to care most about this stuff) admitted that the final product is a big step forward. In an analysis the paper wrote: “The (revised) syllabus also represents, in many ways, a leap forward from the current state of Black history in the K-12 classroom. Many states do not require schools to teach about redlining or discrimination against African American veterans in the administration of federal benefits through the G.I. Bill, both of which are emphasized in the A.P. course. Few standard high school history textbooks go into any detail on thinkers like Marcus Garvey, who the College Board highlights in a unit on Black Internationalism.”
And, of course, there is nothing to stop individual students and teachers from pursuing controversial contemporary topics on their own. In fact, that kind of independent inquiry is encouraged and counts for a fifth of the grade.
DeSantis was ill-motivated in attacking the proposed AP curriculum, but that didn’t make him wrong on the merits. And give the College Board credit for listening to feedback. The final product is much better than what had been originally proposed. Grudgingly, I thank Ron DeSantis.
Have a good weekend.