Two teachers in the Tulsa school district signed up to teach the pilot version of the Advanced Placement African American Studies course this school year. Both teachers said the pilot course provided significant educational value and allowed students to feel represented and empowered, and that the final version will continue to do the same.
Oklahoma is one of 18 states with similar laws to Florida, which rejected the course for allegedly lacking educational value, historical accuracy and violating the state’s “Stop W.O.K.E” law, which bans critical race theory.
EdWeek spoke to the two McLain High School teachers, Shekinah Hall and Darren Williams, about their thoughts on the course, the controversies surrounding it, and its future in their state.
Here are five things we learned.
College Board asked for weekly feedback
Both teachers said the College Board—the organization that developed the course—considered their feedback on teaching the pilot version of the course, which the organization solicited in a weekly email on Fridays, asking teachers what they had learned that week.
That feedback was incorporated into the final version of the course to some extent, the teachers said.
“A lot of us gave feedback and opportunities for growth, and I think that’s where a lot of the changes are coming from,” Hall said about the finalized curriculum.
The College Board released its finalized version of the course framework in early February and told its members that no state’s feedback helped shape the final version.
AP African American Studies is instrumental to expose students to Black history
For Hall and Williams, the course has been instrumental in exposing students to different aspects of Black history and culture. It has also proven to be enlightening and engaging to the more than 40 students taking the class at McLain High School, the only high school offering two separate classes of the pilot course in the country this school year.
“The fact that the subject African American Studies was given the attention of an AP course was the main attractive piece to me,” said Williams. “And outside of that overarching thing, whether intended or not by the designers of the course, by the College Board, this course is actually a step towards educational justice.”
AP African American Studies is comprehensive
Both teachers said the course provides an unprecedented opportunity for all students to understand how interconnected African American history is with American and world history, and how it ties to modern day life. The course starts before enslavement, with the history of African civilizations. The decision to start teaching African history before slavery is “radical,” Hall said.
“If you start with African Americans and slavery, everything else that happens to that seems like progress,” Williams added.
“But if you move the goalposts back and recognize the success of African civilizations before that, what is understood is that the enslavement of Africans was an interruption of African history.”
The criticism of the course in Florida and other red states is disheartening
The resulting dispute between Florida and the College Board has opened a new front in the larger conservative push to limit what students in K-12 schools learn about America’s difficult history with race and racism.
While Oklahoma has taken no action against the course, both teachers are aware of their state’s restrictions on conversations of race and racism, and the consequences of violating those. Last year, the Oklahoma education department downgraded the Tulsa district’s accreditation in response to a teacher’s complaints that a staff training on implicit bias “shamed white people.”
“Especially as a Black woman, to hear all this criticism about African American studies is ridiculous because you’re saying ... this racial group doesn’t matter,” said Hall.
“Children, especially like Black boys and girls, and all the students that we have, they need to be taught that it’s OK to be Black and it’s OK to see that we’re not ... just enslaved, we’re not just always going to be oppressed.”
Support from district gives teachers confidence
Williams and Hall said it’s natural for teachers to be nervous when talking about these topics in light of restrictive laws, but the support of their district leaders gives them confidence.
“It’s an injustice for me and my students and everyone that worked so hard for this course not to teach what we have to teach,” Hall said.
“I don’t think that we are forcing anyone to believe anything…because CRT is so vague, anyone could attack anything that we say. And I think that’s just like a daily thing that teachers face.”