White House: Ban on African American study course in Florida is ‘incomprehensible’

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WASHINGTON — Florida’s ban on teaching an advanced course on African-American history is “incomprehensible,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday in the latest dispute between the Biden administration and the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, a likely presidential candidate. who has energized conservatives with his eagerness to participate in the culture wars.

Jean-Pierre’s statement comes a day after the public release of a letter the Florida Department of Education sent last week to the College Board, which administers TBEN courses and exams. The letter stated that the new African American history course would not be taught in state schools due to concerns that, in the words of DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin“a vehicle for a political agenda,” as the furore over the announcement grew.

Decisions about education are largely made at the national and local levels, but political polarization and social media have effectively nationalized the conversation about education, especially when that conversation involves issues such as gender and race. “It is not for us to lead or be involved in any school curriculum. But this is worrying,” said Jean-Pierre.

In an emailed statement to Yahoo News, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said the “study of African American history is not only allowed in Florida under [DeSantis] but legally required.”

“In fact,” Griffin said, “African American history education in Florida has expanded since Governor Ron DeSantis took office.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in the briefing room on Friday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The African American history course decision appears to be part of DeSantis’ campaign to make Florida the state where “wake up to die,” as the governor likes to say. Lawyers and other officials in his administration have defined vigilance as referring to “systemic injustice”, particularly in the criminal justice system.

The dispute between the White House and DeSantis over education-related issues began at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when Florida’s governor opposed mask mandates for children in schools.

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As the pandemic subsided, the hostility continued.

Early last year, President Biden criticized DeSantis for what he called a “hateful” law that would make it difficult, if not impossible, to teach or discuss sexual orientation in the classroom. While the bill’s proponents said it was designed to protect young children from inappropriate materials and concepts, the language of the measure was vague enough to have widespread chilling effect.

In March 2022, DeSantis oversaw the passage of a new law that allowed parents to challenge school reading lists, course materials, and library collections. The measure seemed to meet a burgeoning movement of conservative parents angry at the state of American schools.

Gov. of Florida, Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, after signing the Stop WOKE Act, in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., April 22, 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“They have banned more books in schools and libraries than almost any other state in the country,” Jean-Pierre said Friday. In fact, according to a recent PEN America report, Florida ranks second in the number of book bans enacted by states. Texas is the first.

Much of Florida’s education policy over the past two years appears to have been led by Christopher Rufo, a right-wing activist who emerged in 2021 as a standard-bearer in the education culture wars. (Rufo was recently one of six DeSantis appointees tasked with turning New College, a small liberal arts college, into a beacon of conservatism.)

In April, with Rufo at his side, DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE Act, which makes it nearly impossible for teachers to teach about racial or gender discrimination. He and Republican lawmakers — who control state legislatures — have also mandated that citizenship education in the state focus on patriotism. One of the institutions allowed to review citizenship guidelines was Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution. (Hillsdale is the model for the governor and Rufo’s vision for New College.)

Florida has 2.9 million public school students. Any curricular decisions made there could affect educators and students in other states, especially as Republican governors try to emulate the moves that popularized DeSantis with the party’s grassroots. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Arkansas’s new and first female governor, recently recruited a senior Florida education official to run her state’s schools.

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Elder Andria Derio protests against the teaching of CRT

Parent Andria Derio of Yorba Linda, California, opposes teaching critical race theory in school and carries a sign at a school board meeting saying she will remove her children from the district if a resolution banning CRT is not passed. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Administered by the College Board, Advancement Placement courses allow high school students to earn college credit by doing college-level work. The TBEN program, which originated at Kenyon College in the 1950s, now has about 40 courses, from statistics to Chinese. More than 1.1 million high school students have taken at least one TBEN course annually in recent years.

The TBEN African American History course was launched as a pilot in August. Conservatives immediately expressed concern that it would be used to teach critical race theory to students, a concept as divisive and vague as wakefulness – and also seems, in the broadest sense, to indicate concerns about examining legacy and the persistence of racial injustice. .

“I think people need to understand that critical race theory is not part of this course,” a teacher involved in the pilot told the New York Times, noting that the controversial 1619 Project – a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Magazine series that attempted to reframe the American experience around slavery and racism, but also drew criticism from historians – was not part of the curriculum.

“There may be elements that intersect,” the teacher explained. “But this course is a comprehensive, regular course on the African American experience.”

Schoolchildren hold placards against critical race theory concept

Schoolchildren hold signs against concept of critical race theory, Hialeah Gardens, Fla., April 22, 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

According to a copy of the proposed syllabus published by a Florida news outlet, the course is a clear history lesson covering the rise of African kingdoms, the advent of the transatlantic slave trade, the experience of slavery in the American South, abolition and emancipation. , the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement, and the challenges African Americans face today.

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Many of the proposed texts are by canonical authors such as the pioneering sociologist WEB Du Bois and the writer James Baldwin, as well as Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father who owned slaves. But the reference to Kimberlé Crenshaw, pioneer of the concept of critical race theory, and other contemporary thinkers seemed to provide conservatives like DeSantis with all the evidence they needed to dismiss the course outright as nothing more than an exercise in activism.

A fact sheet compiled by the Department of Education and sent to Yahoo News also raises concerns about topics such as Intersectionality and Activism, Black Queer Studies and the Reparations Movement, as well as specific authors such as Angela Davis, Bell Hooks and Robin D. G. Kelley.

Florida educators expressed concern about AP's African American history course

Some Florida educators have expressed concerns about the Advanced Placement African American History course.

Last week, the Florida Department of Education informed the College Board that it would ban the teaching of the new course because “the content of this course inexplicably violates Florida law.”

After the letter was made public on Wednesday, it was immediately criticized by many educators. But conservatives who fear that mainstream American culture has given over to progressive rhetoric and ideology applauded DeSantis, as they have consistently done during his battles with Democratic politicians and companies like Disney that have embraced progressivism.

Aware of DeSantis’s rising influence and thinly veiled presidential ambitions, the White House sees few drawbacks in picking a fight with a figure many Democrats have come to view as arguably a greater political threat than Donald Trump. (The former president has already announced he’s seeking the presidency next year, and he, too, has come to view DeSantis as a threat.)

Jean-Pierre suggested Friday that the African American history decision was motivated by racial animosity. And let’s not forget, they didn’t block TBEN European History, they didn’t block our music history, they didn’t block our art history — but the state chooses to block a course designed for high-achieving students to learn about their history of art and culture.”

In his statement, Griffin said Jean-Pierre was “demonstrably false.”

In response to what quickly became a national controversy, the state department of education told the Daily Beast it was open to reviewing the issue. “If the course is compliant and contains historically accurate content, the department will reopen discussion,” a spokeswoman said.

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