In a contentious political climate, Black communities continue to educate their own
It's no secret in Black communities that you'll likely learn more about Black history from your family and friends than you will from school.
But recent history – namely the murder of George Floyd in 2020 – has prompted educators across the country to enrich their exploration of race in America.
In 2021, the College Board announced its own effort to institutionalize this nation-wide reckoning: an Advanced Placement (AP) course in African American Studies.
In 2023, the pilot curriculum was banned in Florida.
But the College Board pressed on, unveiling the final course framework on the first day of Black History Month this February.
That led to even more condemnation. The final curriculum was missing lessons from the pilot. The College Board maintains that the cuts were not a reaction to the Florida ban.
"The fact of the matter is that this landmark course has been shaped over years by the most eminent scholars in the field, not political influence," the nonprofit said in a statement.
Roderick Ferguson, a professor of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Yale University, had his work cut from the course, alongside the unit on Black queer studies.
"I'm trying to see this as an opportunity," he says.
Being cut is a moment to refortify himself as a teacher, writer, and adviser.
Ferguson's own love for Black literature started with a gift from his aunt back in grade school: books from "The Shrine of the Black Madonna," a cultural center near her home in Atlanta, Georgia.
Though he grew up in a rural town some hours south of the state's capital, The Shrine of the Black Madonna became an outlet for his budding interest.
"I got the catalog, and I just started ordering books," he says.
Every book he finished, he'd pass along to friends. They were all being trained by members of the local NAACP: the junior high school principal, school secretaries, their French teacher, and others.
These elders were all veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.
"We had to produce the classroom outside of the classroom," Ferguson says. "It's that history that I draw on at a moment like this."
Experiences like Ferguson's are tradition in Black communities, says Colita Nichols Fairfax, a professor of Africana Studies at Norfolk State University.
"Elders of earlier generations did not abdicate the teaching and learning to the school system," she says. "They were still engaged in socializing their children in their own history and culture."
Fairfax points to Freedom Schools of the 1960s as an example.
During the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) developed programs that were designed to educate disenfranchised Black people. In the end, nearly 40 freedom schools were established serving more then 2,500 students, parents and grandparents.
There were also secret schools for enslaved Africans in the 18th and 19th century, 20th-century labor schools and, in the 1950s, citizenship schools of the kind formed by Septima Clark, a Black educator and civil rights activist.
Fairfax herself went to church school growing up in Richmond, Virginia.
"My Sunday school included our history and culture in lessons," she says. "I benefited from that work, in addition to the extended family that I hail from – my parents, grandparents and all the aunts and uncles."
Like Ferguson and Fairfax, Ed Allison was educated by the community of adults who raised him, including his parents, who both graduated from historically Black colleges.
Allison is an African American Studies teacher at Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia. He is teaching the new AP course next year.
The AP curriculum cuts were a surprise to him, especially given their timing.
"You make a big deal of rolling it out on the first day of Black History Month," he says of the College Board's February announcement. "But you popped a bubble."
The final AP framework also drops its exploration of the Movement for Black Lives, which Allison finds especially riling.
He says that for younger students who don't know much about the Civil Rights Era, the Black Lives Matter movement is an instructive modern-day parallel – one that inspired many of them to do their own research into the story of Blackness in America.
As a teacher, it's disappointing to see Black history education so politicized, says Allison.
"Stop it. It's exhausting," he says.
"This is history. We're ingrained in the culture of this country."
As frustrating as it can be trying to teach this American history, he's still excited for the year ahead.
Regardless of what happens with the AP course, he'll continue to teach Black history in a way that incorporates it in the culture of students' every-day life – not just inside the classroom, but outside of it as well. That's the way he learned: growing up in it.
"I live the curriculum," he says. "I am the curriculum."
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