Piloted Advanced Placement African American Studies course fosters interdisciplinary thinking


This school year, College Board is piloting their newest Advanced Placement (AP) course, AP African American Studies, at 60 high schools across the country. Although College Board has not named the 60 schools or released a course syllabus, educators in the pilot program describe the course as an interdisciplinary study of African American history, politics, art and culture. The course will cover over 400 years of Africans’ and their descendants’ contributions to the United States (U.S.), starting in 1513 from when the first known African, Juan Garrido, came to North America and going onward. Students in the program this year will take a pilot AP exam but will not receive scores or college credit, as the goal is to expand the course to 200 high schools during the 2023–2024 school year and make it available to all high schools the following school year.

The new course, dedicated entirely to the study of African Americans, comes at a time of ongoing nationwide debate surrounding how race should be taught in classrooms. While some states such as California are seeking to expand discussions about race by implementing a new ethnic studies requirement, 36 states have introduced legislative efforts to restrict education on race, gender and American history as of Aug. 2022, according to the nonprofit organization Poets, Essayists and Novelists (PEN) America. Diversity Commissioner junior Chania Rene-Corail believes discussion about race is necessary, given recent controversies over its role in education. “Race has been impacting people for centuries now,” she said. “A lot of people have been negatively impacted by it and the concepts we associate with race—to just ignore it now would be much more harmful than talking about it. As someone who is from a minority group and has had trouble finding representation in history classes in the past, it’s extremely important to be able to know about your past and know about why people treat your community the way they do.”

Social studies teacher Arthur Kinyanjui also believes it is important to know about African American history and supports the new course. “Most of the western civilization, starting with the Industrial Revolution, was based on the backs of African Americans,” he said. “If we look at the experiences [African Americans] have gone through, the reality they face today and the perspectives of those that hold power, we can clearly see that they’re not in alignment. If you’re going to have a more equitable, just society, we need to understand what their hopes, dreams and grievances are.”

Kinyanjui also hopes the course will increase respect for all minority groups, not just for African Americans. “The more we know, the more caring and empathetic we become about those around us,” he said. “Most of the time, discrimination and other kinds of mistreatment are based on fear, and most of this fear comes from people not having enough information.”

Black Culture Club President junior Angelina Rosh hopes that the course will focus more on current issues, rather than historical perspectives. “Though we need to start learning more about African American history, specifically at our school, it’s not [only] about recognizing African American history or the struggles, but [also] recognizing how we interact with the community today,” she said. “I would really like there to be a constant focus on relevant issues and how this history has affected us now. There’s no point in learning about history if we don’t see how it’s directly affecting what we see in the world today. Not only will this make us more socially aware, but it would also help eliminate the issues we see on campus.”

However, due to concerns regarding enrollment, there is no current plan to offer AP African American Studies at Gunn. Rather, Social Studies Instructional Lead Jeff Patrick encourages students who are interested in African American history to enroll in AP Human Geography or Ethnic Studies classes instead. “If students are interested in the topic, our AP Human Geography class provides some of the same analytical skills,” he said. “[Also,] our current Ethnic Studies class, which we’re running for the first time this year, would love to see more students in it. [AP Human Geography] is designed to be a more interdisciplinary class than a U.S. History or economics course, which seems to be the direction that higher education is moving toward in terms of providing students with a wide range of skills in which to tackle big problems.”