Seven months after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis banned his state’s schools from teaching Advanced Placement African American Studies courses, someone in Arkansas appears to have realized that there was political hay to be made from picking the same fight.
Although students at two Arkansas high schools took a first-year pilot version of the class last year, immediately before the start of the current school year Arkansas state officials decided that it was unacceptable and announced that the state would not recognize credits from the course and would not pay for students to take the AP exam in that subject, as it does for other AP exams. Now, with six schools saying they will teach the course even without state recognition, Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva demanded that the schools teaching it “submit all materials, including but not limited to the syllabus, textbooks, teacher resources, student resources, rubrics, and training materials,” as well as “your statement of assurance that the teaching of these materials will not violate Arkansas law or rule.”
In January, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued an executive order wildly mischaracterizing critical race theory in the course of banning it from the state’s schools. According to her, “Critical Race Theory (CRT) is antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness. It emphasizes skin color as a person’s primary characteristic, thereby resurrecting segregationist values, which America has fought so hard to reject.” Critical race theory does not emphasize skin color as a person’s primary characteristic, and in fact its main focus is on society, laws, and institutions rather than individuals.
Sanders’ executive order went on to order the education secretary to “identify any items that may, purposely or otherwise, promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as CRT, that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law.” Oliva cited this in demanding AP African American Studies teaching materials, writing, “Given some of the themes included in the pilot, including ‘intersections of identity’ and ‘resistance and resilience,’ the Department is concerned the pilot may not comply with Arkansas law.”
While Sanders had made noise about AP African American Studies early in the year, Arkansas officials didn’t make any moves to ban it until Aug. 11, just before school started in most of the state and after the start of the school year at one of the schools offering the course. And, of course, this came after the pilot course was taught in some schools in the previous school year. When the schools that planned to teach AP African American Studies announced they would go through with it without state recognition, it seems Oliva decided he had to go further, with the demand for course materials. That puts a new burden on teachers—and, as the College Board pointed out, a particularly silly one given that the course framework has been available online since Feb. 1. If Oliva or Sanders wanted to know what was being taught, they could have gone there any time.
It is true, though, that teachers build on that course framework, and Oliva’s move now is intended, once again, to target teachers for suspicion as indoctrinators. “AP teachers are experienced and highly skilled professionals,” the College Board wrote. “We are fully confident in their abilities to teach this course without any indoctrination.” But to the likes of Sanders and Oliva, teaching students about the history of Black people in this country is reason for suspicion of indoctrination. Teaching that racism has been (and, especially, remains) a force in U.S. history moves it from suspicion to certainty. As with DeSantis, of course, it’s not that Sanders objects to ideology in schools. She just wants the ideologies taught to be hers.
Sign the petition: Say no to Ron DeSantis’ war on education.
American political parties might often seem stuck in their ways, but they can and in fact do change positions often. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is political scientist David Karol, who tells us how and why both the Democratic and Republican parties have adjusted their views on a wide range of issues over the years. Karol offers three different models for how these transformations happen—and explains why voters often stick with their parties even after these shifts. He concludes by offering tips to activists seeking to push their parties when they're not changing fast enough.