UPDATED: To include a statement from the College Board.
The six Arkansas school districts offering an AP African American Studies class this year despite an ambush from the state’s pearl-clutching, culture war-stoking political leadership now have more hoops to jump through.
On Monday, Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva sent letters to superintendents letting them know that because of suspicions the class may violate new state laws against indoctrination and critical race theory, teachers will have to submit lesson plans and course materials for inspection.
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, which does not permit teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory (CRT), (See Ark. Code Ann. § 6-16-156, as amended by Section 16 of the LEARNS Act).
To assist public school employees, representatives, and guest speakers at your district in complying with the law, please submit all materials, including but not limited to the syllabus, textbooks, teacher resources, student resources, rubrics, and training materials, to the Department by 12:00 pm on September 8, 2023, along with your statement of assurance that the teaching of these materials will not violate Arkansas law or rule. Items can be scanned and emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read his letter in full here.
The College Board, the nonprofit organization that crafts Advanced Placement curricula and exams, pushed back quickly on news of Oliva’s letter. The College Board refuted accusations of indoctrination and called out the Arkansas Department of Education for failing to do their own homework of reviewing course framework that’s been available online for months.
Advanced Placement African American Studies is not indoctrination, plain and simple. It is a college-level course rooted in the work of 300 scholars and includes facts of African-American experiences in the United States through primary sources that incorporate a combination of history, English, music, and more.
The pilot course framework has been available for public review since February 1, 2023; the Arkansas Department of Education was informed of the framework then, following its October 2022 approval of the pilot course code. Individual AP teachers use the course framework to develop their own curriculum and instruction for their classes, creating meaningful learning opportunities for students.
AP teachers are experienced and highly skilled professionals. We are fully confident in their abilities to teach this course without any indoctrination.
Monday’s news that high school teachers of the college-level course must have their lesson plans blessed by the state is just the latest outrage threatening to keep Arkansas students from the advanced study of Black history and culture in the United States.
Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders targeted the class in her early days in office as an example of the indoctrination she would boldly root out. She asked her education secretary to investigate, but all went quiet through the summer as history teachers underwent special training to be able to offer this new high-level course.
State education department officials called teachers on Friday afternoon, Aug. 11, just days before school started for most Arkansas students, to tell them the state would not honor the new AP course.
Officials have since offered a growing pile of excuses for the decision to not grant graduation credits for the class or cover exam fees, as the state does for all other AP courses. The official statement from the education department suggested AP African American Studies is academically shoddy and based on ideology instead of fact.
“The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination,” the statement said.
So far, though, the Arkansas Department of Education and Gov. Sanders have failed to provide any examples of indoctrination or critical race theory in the class.
The lack of evidence isn’t slowing down Arkansas’s culture war attack on the class, which is now in its second pilot year and being taught in 40 states and the District of Columbia. The validity of AP African American Studies is not under attack by state government in any other state where it’s being taught this year. (Florida is not among the states offering the course, after Gov. Ron DeSantis banned it in January.)
But in Arkansas, Sanders doubled down on accusations of indoctrination embedded in the course last week, telling Fox News that AP African American Studies and the public outcry over the state’s move to discredit the class was part of “this propaganda leftist agenda, teaching our kids to hate America and hate one another.”
Emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act indicate state education officials told administrators and teachers with the Little Rock School District that the course, offered as a first-year pilot at Little Rock’s Central High and the Academies at Jonesboro during the 2022-23 school year, violated an executive order against indoctrination and critical race theory.
But in response to recent requests for examples of indoctrination in Arkansas schools, the education department provided a document that does not reference the AP African American Studies course at all. (View the full document here.)
Instead, the education department’s list of examples of indoctrination includes Pride flags hung on classroom walls and a Pulaski County Special School District social media post with a multicolor, rainbow-adjacent background and the words “Be Proud.”
Here’s the post the state found so objectionable:
— Pulaski County Special School District (@pcssdschools) June 1, 2023
The education department also classified as indoctrination a questionnaire given to Fayetteville students asking about their gender identity.
The four-page document, which the education department recently provided to journalists, also cites teacher trainings that covered unconscious bias and systemic racism and a discussion of gender identity during a lesson on puberty in the Lakeside School District near Hot Springs.
None of the examples in the document provided by the Arkansas Department of Education comes from the Little Rock School District or Jonesboro Public Schools, the only two districts that offered the AP African American Studies pilot class last year.
As of Monday, the six Arkansas schools offering the class — Central High in Little Rock, North Little Rock Center Of Excellence, eStem High School, Jacksonville High School, The Academies at Jonesboro High School and North Little Rock High School — were carrying on. Class started for students in those schools on Aug. 14, with the exception of eStem, where classes started Aug. 2.
Iconic for its role in the South’s civil rights history, Little Rock’s Central High and the upheaval that encompassed the campus and the entire city in 1957 is included as a potential topic in the College Board’s framework for the course. That the Arkansas Department of Education might outlaw this class if state officials determine the lessons to be too divisive seems inconceivable. But here we are.