To the Editor:
The debate and controversy regarding eliminating content of the College Board’s new Advanced Placement African American Studies course have received much media attention over the last week. The recent decision was to remove curriculum covering the Black Lives Matter movement, intersectionality, Black queer studies, reparations, and the long-term effects of chattel slavery and racial discrimination on Black people. Select authors and scholars, such as Kimberle Crenshaw, Roderick Ferguson, bell hooks, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, are also eliminated from the curriculum, contributing to an erasure of Black history and culture.
Many educators, scholars, and policymakers have taken to social media and news outlets to criticize this move. As school counseling professionals, we share their outrage and are particularly distressed by the source of this decision — the College Board.
School counselors serve an important role in students’ personal, social, college, and career development processes. We are situated in schools to be strong advocates for justice, inclusion, and overall healthy child/adolescent adjustment and development. As such, we vehemently believe these topics and authors’ writings are critical to student development, understanding Black/African American students’ experiences, and combating anti-black racism in society. We believe examining diverse perspectives, including Black Conservatism, is warranted in schools. Overwhelmingly, we support an AP African American Studies course and believe it’s long overdue in high schools. And most importantly, we believe all students, including White students, must grapple with these perspectives with well-trained teachers in safe and brave learning spaces.
As one might expect, we are disappointed by the College Board’s recent capitulation to the critiques of right-wing conservatives who support erasing important aspects of Black history from AP coursework. In many ways, it feels like a betrayal.
The College Board’s history of “selling” and promoting its products to school counselors under the guise of “equity” and an appreciation for Black students is well-documented. Over 10 years ago, the College Board even housed the National Office of School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA), led by Patricia Martin and Dr. Vivian Lee — two equity-driven school counseling leaders. The Office engaged school counselors from across the country to focus their work on equitable college outcomes for all students, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic group. As part of its work, the Office helped to increase the number of predominately Black and Brown school districts participating in AP course-taking. For decades, the College Board has profited from the labor of school counselors who coordinate and administer AP, PSAT, and SAT exams. The costs of AP courses in low-income districts are steep; possibly taking funds from hiring additional teachers and school counselors. And the opportunity gaps in the advanced coursework system persist, creating the inequitable distribution of funding, support, and pathways for student participation and success.
We believe it’s necessary to publicly denounce the limiting of all aspects of Black history and culture in the AP African American Studies course. And we recommend that school counseling professionals and educators take the following steps to ensure the full inclusion of “Black voices” and African American history in our schools’ curricula:
- Immediately create networks and “spaces” for Black educators, historians, university faculty, activists/community members, students, and PK-12 teachers to collaborate on curriculum development as well as strategies for teaching about “sensitive” historical content (e.g., slavery). These networks can be the “brain trust” for African American studies coursework in high schools.
- Encourage and advocate for a College Board School Counselor Advisory Committee, like NOSCA, that would be consulted regularly on AP modifications, policies, coursework, etc.
- Create African American studies honors and dual enrollment courses. As universities move toward “test-optional” admissions, we believe universities and school districts should opt for Advanced Placement alternatives for African American content. University faculty and school districts can work together to develop high-quality courses, without the College Board’s high costs.
- Develop, provide, and evaluate intensive and ongoing school counselor professional development for debunking myths and “diversity resistance.” Given the rise of “anti-black racism,” “anti-education,” and “anti-diversity” movements, school counselors are in the middle of dangerous and traumatizing debates. Counselors need time to reflect on how to dismantle oppressive systems in schools that create “racialized outcomes,” such as racial disparities in AP course-taking and pass rates.
- Create, facilitate, and evaluate professional development training and tools for all teachers (not just AP). Teachers need resources to facilitate classroom discussions that promote cultural awareness and understanding of African American history.
- Advocate for federal, state, and local policy changes to ensure the AP African American Studies and all African American studies courses are widely available and well-supported.
- Partner with local Black and Brown community organizations to provide P-16 educators, students, and families with additional resources for deepening their understanding of African American history and culture.
Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Ph.D., American University, Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success
Laura Owen, Ph.D., San Diego State University, Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment
Julia Bryan, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University
S. Kent Butler, Ph.D., University of Central Florida (American Counseling Association Past-President
Janice Byrd, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University
Danielle Duarte, Ed.LD., Hatching Results
Natalie Edirmanasinghe, Ph.D., California State University, Long Beach
Derek Francis, MA, Minneapolis Public Schools
Dana Griffin, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Paul Harris, Ph.D., Integrity Matters LLC
Trish Hatch, Ph.D., Hatching Results
Malik S. Henfield, Ph.D., Loyola University Chicago, Institute for Racial Justice
Erik Hines, Ph.D., Florida State University
Kara P. Ieva, Ph.D., Rowan University
Kaprea Johnson, Ph.D., Ohio State University
Robert Martinez, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Erin McCarty Mason, Ph.D., Georgia State University
Renae, Mayes, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Mandy Savitz-Romer, Ph.D., Harvard University
Ann Shillingford, Ph.D., University of Central Florida (Association of Multicultural Counseling & Development, Vice-President of International Concerns)
Norma Day-Vines, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University
Ahmad Washington, Ph.D., University of Louisville
Joseph Williams, Ph.D., University of Virginia