America Retold: AP African American Studies

AP African American Studies, a new and controversial course, will be offered at Stuyvesant starting this fall.

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During the craze of AP course selections for the upcoming fall semester, rising juniors and seniors may have noticed a new option on the class list: AP African American Studies. According to College Board, the AP Program has been developing this interdisciplinary course for over a decade, designing a curriculum to educate students about the contributions and historical experiences of African Americans. As a pilot course, AP African American Studies is currently being taught in 60 schools, but College Board plans for this AP to expand to 800 schools in the 2023 to 2024 school year, one of which is Stuyvesant.

While the class is still in its early stages of implementation, the topic of AP African American Studies has become a nationwide political controversy. The course was first introduced in 2020 amid the Black Lives Matter movement with the goal of engaging students with African American history, culture, movements, and debates in the classroom. After its initial implementation in the original 60 pilot schools, the course was criticized by the Florida Department of Education, which claimed that AP African American Studies  “significantly lacks educational value” and “is explicitly contrary to Florida law.”  College Board has since revised its course framework to omit Black queer studies, intersectional analysis, the Black Lives Matter movement, and socially critical authors such as Angela Davis and bell hooks. 

Beginning in the fall of 2023 at Stuyvesant, two sections of AP African American Studies will be taught by English teacher Emilio Nieves. Since the class is so new, the College Board has not detailed exactly what it has in mind for next year’s course outline, but there is a rough curriculum overview. “There’s going to be four units: it’s going to start with the history of Africans in Africa before the slave trade, then the slave trade and how that developed, and basically African American history from colonialism to around the civil rights movement, and maybe a little bit after that,” Nieves explained. 

The AP African American Studies curriculum is relevant to both the English and history departments. “We would do Booker T. Washington, [W.E.B.] Du Bois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, so it could overlap a little bit,” Nieves said, describing the similarities between AP African American Studies and the class he currently teaches, AP English Language and Composition: American Literary History. However, there will be differences compared to the other English and history APs; for instance, there is a research paper requirement where students will investigate a topic of their choice in African American history to submit alongside their AP African American Studies exam. 

Considering the extensive national attention the course has already received and the fact that it’s an AP class, Nieves expects relatively high demand. Stuyvesant’s choice to adopt the class made sense in a school of students who appreciate learning about a diversity of perspectives. “If anyone should have a course like that, it’s Stuyvesant,” Nieves said. “Everything that is taught should be taught here as well. If this is a top school, we should have it.” 

Many students believe that AP African American Studies will offer a better understanding of Black culture than other history classes. Junior Rafia Islam offered her prediction about how the course will differ from AP U.S. History. “It’s just like focusing on the racial part of history because we do focus on it, but not in depth. There's so many aspects of U.S. history, [and] there’s so many other demographics in the U.S. So you can’t just focus on one thing,” Islam said. 

Junior Malcolm West expressed similar sentiments, relating the new course to other identity-based classes at Stuyvesant. “I think this course is different because it offers an African American perspective on history and it’s [going to be] more similar to the other identity classes like Jewish History. [...] Also, [it will] just provide something at Stuyvesant that normally isn’t there,” West said. In addition to Jewish History, Stuyvesant offers other identity-focused courses such as Women’s Voices and Asian American Literature. These courses tend to be popular among students, so AP African American Studies will likely hold that same status.

Some students believe that AP African American Studies will differ from other history APs due to its emphasis on literature. “This course will differ from past history APs since it is interdisciplinary. There is probably going to be an emphasis on works of literature and how they connect to specific parts of history,” junior Elma Lamany said in an e-mail interview. Lamany hopes that the literature analyzed in the course will provide a deeper and more personal understanding of the African American experience. “The course will help Stuyvesant students better understand [African American] history. I just hope they apply their knowledge to their current life as well instead of viewing racism as something that already ended,” Lamany added.

Nieves also believes that taking classes centered around culture, like AP African American Studies, is crucial for students to widen their understanding of current societal issues. “It eliminates a lot of ignorance,” Nieves explained. “It just keeps people more informed, and it’s academic. […] It’s always good to know about other cultures in order to understand the issues going on today.”

However, other students anticipate that not everyone will be accepting of the new course. “I think that it may actually do more harm than good because I feel like people are going to assume that only the Black students of Stuyvesant should take the class,” West said. He worries that the introduction of the course could provoke offensive comments about Black students, as well as division among the student body. “There’s already been backlash against it or students making racial comments about it. It may actually cause more [of a] divide than unity because some people may just not want to be educated about African American history,” West shared.

Overall, the student body seems optimistic about the future of AP African American Studies. The true question lies in whether enough students will apply for the course in order to solidify its place at Stuyvesant in the upcoming semester. When faced with the course selection form on Talos, it is important to consider how an interdisciplinary, demographic-specific class like AP African American Studies could enrich students’ educational experience and cultural awareness.