AP African American Studies May Be Offered at Stuyvesant

Issue 2, Volume 113

By Matthew Huang, Kevin Chan, David Lin 

After being in development for a decade under the College Board, the organization that manages the nationwide Advanced Placement (AP) program, a new AP African American Studies course is piloting in 60 select high schools in the United States this year. It is the first AP exam in the nation’s history to focus mainly on the experiences of African Americans. The course’s release comes at a critical time marked by widespread disagreement on how to teach sensitive topics such as those presented in the course.

Among the topics covered are the history, politics, culture, and geography of the African diaspora. Students will take an exam at the end of the year, similar to the structure of other AP courses, but with no college credit attached. If the pilot program is successful, all schools will have the option of adopting the course starting in 2024.

Though more planning with course material and scheduling is needed, preparation for Stuyvesant’s possible adoption of this course is already underway. “I’ve acquired a few possible textbooks [and] sample copies to look through, and I’m going to be canvassing my staff to see who would express an interest so we might be able to offer it next year,” Assistant Principal for Social Studies and Research Jennifer Suri said.

Several teachers have expressed interest in teaching the course due to prior knowledge of the field. “I think that it is something that I would definitely consider teaching. I certainly have some knowledge of African American history. I did take a course or two in college on African American history, but I know there are many other teachers who are eminently qualified to teach that as well,” history teacher Mordecai Moore said.

Moore believes that the new AP course’s stronger focus on African Americans allows for greater historical detail, which would enhance students’ understanding of key events. “AP African American Studies will definitely delve deeper into African American history than APUSH. For instance, one could spend an entire unit on the Jim Crow era, [when] that [would have been] covered in one day,” he said.

Students are also looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about another culture in their history classes. “I don’t think that it is right that the only history APs that are available are AP U.S. History, AP World [History], and AP [European History],” junior and Vice President of Black Students League (BSL) Amanda Cissé said. “I don’t understand why they would make that a specialized class just for Europe and not one for the other countries. The more specialized courses in history, the better, so that people can learn about their own cultures.”

Other students share similar sentiments on the importance of more history courses that delve deeper into a particular culture. “History is important because it helps in the modern world with race relations and being educated about that, so knowing the history [of a place or group] would help us deal with the present and future,” junior Aleksey Olkhovenko said.

Cissé, whose family comes from the Susu tribe, an ethnic group based in Guinea in West Africa, welcomes the opportunity that the course presents for black students to learn more about their places of origin. “I would want a lot of focus [in the course] on African countries because they have a very rich history,” Cissé said. “I know not all African Americans know their origins in Africa, but I think it would be a good place to start.”

Students who are less knowledgeable in African American studies are also hoping to take the course to learn more about the topic. “I would hope that there would be a good amount of history involved there. I hope it goes from historical—almost ancient—Africa, to closer to the modern day. I know a lot of history courses cut off before the modern day,” junior Zameen Cater said.

However, some are more skeptical about the course’s impact with regard to understanding the long-lasting effects of historical events and their relevance to current events. “I feel like it’s not going to be as relevant as it’s making it out to be [and] it’s going to be a very factual history class without talking about the effects today,” junior Zareen Islam said. “I don’t think [the College Board is] going to dive in-depth enough for what a class like this should aim to achieve.”

Moreover, students express doubt if the material will be properly taught at school. “Seeing the recent controversy regarding the way the history of slavery has been taught, even if the curriculum is really coherent I don’t think it will get across that well, at least in this school,” Islam said.

Regardless of the skepticism, Cissé is optimistic that adding the course to Stuyvesant will contribute to BSL’s goals to spread awareness about African American culture and help black students feel more included in their learning. “If you’re not white and you’re not Asian, there’s not a lot of specialized options for you there. There’s an Asian American literature class and there’s AP European History, and there was a Black Lives in [Literature] class, but now there’s not any specialization there,” Cissé said.

Moore hopes that the release of this course signals the development of future ones inclusive of other marginalized groups. “It should be a starting point and not an ending point,” he said. “If [the] College Board is going to have an AP course on African American history, there should be one on Latino history, Jewish American history, [and] women’s history to have a real alignment with what is being taught at the college level.”