Laws Like Florida Will Put Burden of Purposeful Ignorance on University TeachersRoundup
tags: culture war, teaching history, critical race theory
Donald Earl Collins is the author of Fear of a "Black" America: Multiculturalism and the African American Experience (2004). He is a Visiting Professor of African American History with Loyola University Maryland (on leave from American University).
This January, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis blocked a proposed Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course in his state claiming that it had “a political agenda” and included a study of “Queer Theory” and mentions of “Critical Race Theory”. A few weeks later, he threatened to ban the entire AP programme, which offers undergraduate university-level curricula and examinations to high school students.
The governor’s move to block the proposed AP African American studies course and his wider attacks on the programme that helps prepare young people for college was a predictable effort to increase his popularity with Donald Trump’s base and his chances of securing the Republican presidential nomination. It was also in line with other Republican leaders’ interventions in curriculum and book bans elsewhere in the country aiming to prevent anyone from teaching anything dealing with race, sexual orientation and gender identity to American youths.
These attacks on so-called “woke education” will have innumerable consequences. The biggest one, perhaps, is one that has gone mostly undiscussed.
If K-12 students are forbidden to learn about the history of racism and anti-racism in the US, about the existence and the struggles of Black folk and queer folx, then when would they learn all this? An undergraduate course on US or African American history would then become the first time millions of these students will learn about the good, the bad and the ugly in these histories. That is, of course, if they ever attend college at all. And those who encounter these subjects in an educational setting for the first time in university inevitably show some resistance. They try to hold on to stereotypes about Black people, queer people and all the other marginalised groups in the US that they picked up from media and society at large, turning education into a battle for lecturers attempting to teach them the truth about the US and the world.
This battle, sadly, has been under way for a very long time.
I have taught more than 100 college-level courses in my academic career, including more than two dozen courses in African American history and African Diaspora studies and I have spent so much of that time dispelling stereotypes about Black Americans and racism. Not just with my white students or with students of colour who aren’t Black. With all of my students. Stereotypes like all Black people are either mired in endless poverty or super wealthy like Oprah or LeBron James. Stereotypes like African Black folk and Asian Americans achieving success in the US because of their belief in individualism and hard work while African Americans lie around waiting for the US government to cut them a welfare cheque. Or even bigger stereotypes, like the only form of racism in the US is as obvious as the Ku Klux Klan in white sheets and white hoods burning crosses or deranged white Americans yelling the n-word.
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