EDITORIAL: Addition of AP African American studies curriculum deserves applause

Sep. 8—Kudos to the College Board for its continued commitment to top-flight high school education with the addition this fall of an Advanced Placement course in African American studies.

At a time when the study of American history — or, more accurately, any history that doesn't also serve as hagiography — is under attack, the new AP offering serves to remind us that our nation's story is both vast and complicated. It's something our students need and deserve to learn.

The College Board course is multidisciplinary, covering everything from civil rights and political science to African American music and literature, the arts, geography and science.

The course will be unveiled as part of a pilot program in 60 high schools across the country this fall, and should be available to schools everywhere in 2024.

The success of such a program would be no small thing. AP courses are considered rigorous enough to earn students college credit at schools.

The addition of the curriculum also gives educators another way of showing that a balanced, well-rounded education matters and pushes back against those on the fringe who fear any perspective that doesn't mirror their own.

This year, 35 states have introduced 137 bills looking to restrict teaching on race, gender or history, according to the free speech group PEN America. That's up from 22 states and 54 bills last year. Most have been sponsored by Republican legislators, many of whom cite "critical race theory," which examines how racism has become embedded in institutions. That critical race theory, or CRT, isn't taught in America's high schools hasn't stopped opponents from using it to scare parents.

The Merrimack Valley and North Shore aren't immune. Last year, two Beverly residents verbally attacked a Black Beverly School Committee member at a public meeting, questioning her credentials and suggesting CRT was being taught in Garden City schools. It was part of candidate debates in Andover and North Andover. Much of the argument centers on the idea that youth shouldn't be exposed to the darker parts of the nation's history, for fear that they would feel badly about who they are or where they've come from.

The AP course would be a powerful rebuttal to that weak argument. As described by the nonprofit College Board, "Students in African American studies look at the history, politics, culture, and economics of North American people of African descent. From the slave economy to the civil rights movement, and from the blues to hip-hop, African Americans have had a huge role in shaping American society and culture."

The board said students will also "dive into the difficult issues, such as unequal educational opportunities. Scholars in African American studies play a key role in the development of modern academics. By focusing on people and viewpoints that have been ignored in other fields, they lead the way in integrating minority experiences into all academic subjects."

The curriculum has been vetted by scholars from across the country.

"In the history of any field, in the history of any discipline in the academy, there are always milestones indicating the degree of institutionalization," Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, a consultant to the project, told the New York Times.

"These are milestones which signify the acceptance of a field as being quote-unquote 'academic' and quote-unquote 'legitimate.'"

There can be no doubt AP African American program is not only legitimate, but an important area of study for the nation's high-schoolers.

"A solid understanding of how African Americans have shaped America, its history, laws, institutions, culture and arts, and even the current practice of American democracy, sharpens all knowledge about our nation," Nikki Taylor, chair of the Howard University History Department said in a statement to Changing America.

African American history is American history. It is a vital part of any high school curriculum. And the Advanced Placement course is a long-overdue recognition of that fact.