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U. professor speaks out about Florida's AP African American Studies curriculum

Gov. Ron Desantis (R-Fla.) opposed the new high school Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum on social media. – Photo by @GovRonDeSantis / Twitter

In January, Florida's Education Commissioner and former Senator Manny Diaz Jr. shared an infographic denouncing materials in The College Board's updated Advanced Placement African American Studies curriculum.

The infographic referenced a quote from Leslie Kay Jones, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers. Jones said the quote publicized in Diaz's graphic was from her personal webpage on Patreon rather than any of her published or academic works.

"In other words, the Florida (Department of Education) strategically avoided referring to my actual academic work, which is largely theoretical and specifically argues 'that a dramaturgy framework reveals important meaning-making that occurs on the periphery of a social movement,'" she said.

Despite the inclusion of her quote in the infographic, Jones said she was never approached by the curators of the AP African American Studies curriculum, nor was any specific work of hers explicitly included in the coursework. Instead, her work was to be considered a reference for a section of the curriculum titled "Movements for Black Lives."

She said she suspected the work The College Board was using as a reference was one titled "#BlackLivesMatter: An Analysis of the Movement of Social Drama," which focused on the role Twitter played in the ways activists in the Black Lives Matter movement were interpreted.

The infographic was published following Gov. Ron Desantis' (R-Fla.) public opposition to the AP African American Studies curriculum. At that time, DeSantis said that the new curriculum and its incorporation of the LGBTQ+ history was a form of agenda-setting, according to an article from the Associated Press.

Jones said gender and sexuality cannot be considered independent from issues that relate to the African American identity. Such discussions are vital for comprehending social, legal and institutional factors that shape the lives of African Americans.

An example of this includes the role gender historically played in the treatment of enslaved women and their children who were in the transatlantic slave trade, she said. Laws that allowed slave owners to maintain control over enslaved women's children encouraged the exploitation of these women.

The impact of these experiences persisted for generations, establishing misconceptions about the sexual nature of African American women in America, further shaping their societal treatment, she said.

She said other changes made to the curriculum include the removal of mentions of the Black Lives Matter Movement and intersectionality. Such shifts erode the historical work done by researchers in the field of African American studies and leave students who partake in the coursework unprepared for further exploration of the discipline.

"I reiterate that censoring the historicization of the Black Lives Matter movement serves a political and not a pedagogical purpose," Jones said. "Although the Florida (Department of Education) has framed the AP African American Studies curriculum as attempting to 'indoctrinate' students into a political view, that is a flagrant misrepresentation of my work and the original proposed curriculum framework."

In response to Desantis' remarks, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) released a statement to broaden AP African American Studies in the state and said that New Jersey will educate students about Black history as part of U.S. history.

"While the DeSantis Administration stated that AP African American Studies' significantly lacks educational value,' New Jersey will stand on the side of teaching our full history," he said. "We will set an example for the nation by demonstrating to our future leaders that our country is the greatest in the world because it is a work in progress, a promise, and an ideal we strive to achieve."

Since his original announcement, DeSantis has said that he would consider eliminating funding for all AP coursework in the state, according to an article from the Washington Post. 

Jones said there is an increasingly powerful political movement in the U.S. to discredit fields pertaining to race, gender and sexuality, which unpack the development and connotations given to each social category.

Doing so allows politicians to shape presentations about how history affects modern social issues, she said. Politics inhibit extensive and factual teachings about the essential concepts of U.S. history.

"Knowledge is power, and the Florida government wants people to have minimal working knowledge about how this country works, so they can continue consolidating their own power and wealth," Jones said.

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