Here in Arkansas, we’re dealing with a controversial matter surrounding lawmakers and school curriculum, particularly African American history. Over the years, we’ve heard arguments concerning the significance of Black lives. And although the views of equality amongst mankind can be nebulous depending on the audience you poll; it is an immutable fact that these lives do indeed matter to God.
So, what happens when the question of significance of Black lives is realized through academic restrictions? Restrictions placed on students by the body that is tasked to look out for the best interest of its people? What happens when government officials appear to embrace a mindset that furthers an idea of insignificance amongst a group of people? How can limiting access to certain academic content strengthen this idea but weaken the foundation of those belonging to this group of people?
What’s All the Fuss About?
An Advanced Placement African American studies course has some Arkansas government officials tightening the reins on academic incentives for students. Recently, lawmakers have made efforts to limit education that could instruct students on the historical struggles and successes of African Americans in the United States. To enforce these limitations, the Arkansas Department of Education made the decision that the AP African American studies course offered to students will not be accepted for credit. They also announced that the cost of the final course exam will not be covered, as other AP final course exams are.
Any person with any sort of objective moral compass and unbiased viewpoint would question why this would pose such a problem for lawmakers? To be quite candid, why should this pose a problem for anyone? The reasoning seems to be steeped in the argument of indoctrinating students with ideologies that would promote hate and further division. But is this reasoning plausible? Is it even true?
One could wonder a few things about this decision. But one observation can be deduced from the ordeal. By introducing this education into school curriculum, the racial injustices experienced by people of color throughout American history will undoubtedly accompany it. And this may be where the problem lies.
What Is AP African American Studies?
The framework for the AP course was released back in early February of this year. It is set to be piloted in about 60 schools around the US through 2024. The course dives into 38 topics and themes. These themes being: Origins of the African Diaspora; Freedom, Enslavement, and Resistance; The Practice of Freedom; and Movements and Debates.
The premise of the course is to open the minds of students to broaden the approach to the history and culture of different people groups. In the course overview, it explicitly states that the goal is not to indoctrinate students. Rather, it allows for students to formulate their own perspectives. It also challenges them to examine the credibility of sources and draw out their own conclusions. In so many words, it presents students with facts and leaves it up to them to do what they will with those facts. A concept that is not foreign to society as a whole. After all, is this not what we are asked to do when presented with any other historical data?
Looking from a Different Angle
During the month of February, we are called upon to acknowledge the contributions of African Americans. We are encouraged to celebrate the role of Black people in America. But these contributions did not come without their fair share of struggle. I believe this struggle is what a lot of lawmakers wish would be overlooked and ignored. But the fact remains, Black people have had to work a little harder and dig a little deeper to land on the freedoms that others have so easily enjoyed.
It’s still troubling to think that even in 2023, we are still reducing the abundant benefactions that have come by way of Black people to only one month. One month that blindly causes us to succumb to the “out of sight, out of mind” mantra. Only because after this month, we turn our attention elsewhere and become consumed with things that say to us, “Time’s up. This (whatever this is at the time) is more important now.” However, incorporating things like AP African American studies keeps these benefactions and the people that have allowed for them ever before us. And this is how things that are venerable and deserving of honor remain esteemed in their proper place of significance.
The Significance of African American History
When boats are rocked, people listen. When waves are made, people respond. They respond with astonishment, praise, appreciation, and sometimes doubt. They listen with intent and the yearning to know more. But they indeed respond. So, there is no denying that the new cultural norm that was established that walked a certain group of people into a new way of life is history. It should be a part of the history that is seen and taught every day. Because that is what history is. It is being a part of something that is notable, distinguished, observed, and that should be remembered.
This is why African American history should be acknowledged in the same fashion as the Spanish-American War, the Alamo, George Washington, and other known pieces of history that are deemed important enough to not be cast aside. To pull AP courses that highlight the story of African Americans in this country is to acquiesce to an attitude towards Black people that we have experienced for many years. By ignoring the African piece of American history would be to deem it [Black people] unimportant to American history all together. A disgrace that Black people have fought drudgingly to overcome.
So, What’s the Problem?
When changes like these come about, the Black community understands the weight of its meaning in a way others may not. We feel the impact it will have on our children. We appreciate the learning opportunity it can afford our friends who don’t look like us. It gives us hope that someone heard us and wanted to add sound to our voice. But just like those who want our voices to ring, there are those who may find these voices problematic. But why?
In examining how courses like these cause problems for the American culture, we have to acknowledge why they may have been excluded from American academia to begin with. Seeing that we have performed such quality record keeping of American history, I can only speculate that omitting certain events that have taken place in America could only be because of the pain and guilt that certain truths uncover about our ancestors. I also surmise that particular events dismantle certain beliefs that have been so staunchly held on to. Beliefs that have to now be deconstructed and dissected to analyze their validity.
Questions that Need Answers
Now that the challenge to learn of the hardships and struggles of certain people groups has been placed before us all, why is the response one of reluctance and resistance? Is it that this teaching is controversial because it condemns the mindset and belief of superiority? Does the need to ban this curriculum further feed an idea that says, just as you [Black people] weren’t significant then, neither are you now? Because can we really believe that shedding light on foundational truths that highlight the building of this great nation would truly be destructive in nature?
We Do Belong
To allow for the teaching of African American history, Black people would no longer be banned from the conversation of history that shows how the Black community has been a part of the backbone of this country’s history. A community that has contributed to the structure and foundation of what America is and stands to be. Agendas that seek to suppress certain truths seem to perpetuate a mindset that Black people don’t matter. That our heritage and contribution to this country’s very existence does not matter. And that we do not deserve to be recognized and understood.
One would venture to think that lawmakers would embrace a curriculum that adds color, texture, meaning, and a comprehensive view of this country’s history. It would also seem that one course alone should not cause such an uproar. Simply because the fact remains, it is an AP course. This means that not all students will even be taught this curriculum.
I believe it’s past time for African American history to continue to be treated as a sidebar to American history. Because African American history is indeed a central part of the American story, albeit not always a pretty one. But even with its dark strokes and gloomy hues, it is essential to painting the American picture. Let’s face it, even Christ had an unsettling story, but look at the beauty that the cross now brings.