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Arkansas drops AP African American Studies course

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Arkansas Department of Education pulled a course credit for Advanced Placement African American Studies. The department said it is reviewing the course for possible indoctrination. Here's Josie Lenora from our member station KUAR in Little Rock.

JOSIE LENORA, BYLINE: Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on Fox News to explain her administration's decision to de-prioritize AP African American studies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We cannot perpetuate a lie to our students and push this propaganda leftist agenda teaching our kids to hate America and hate one another.

LENORA: Sanders is not pointing to anything specific in the AP African American curriculum. The Arkansas Department of Education notified teachers that they deleted the course code for AP African American Studies. That means students can't get graduation credit for taking it. The governor's alma mater, Little Rock Central High School, is known for its robust AP offerings. That's where senior Jack Baker took the pilot course last school year. He says it's a straightforward history class which encourages students to think about different ideas.

JACK BAKER: We were offered alternative perspectives. And we were not told that this was somehow, like, immediately correct. It was more discussion-based and, like, viewpoint-oriented.

LENORA: The class was also a positive experience for senior Sarah Tarawally. She said she never felt hatred towards America while studying the course. She said she enjoyed learning about different historical figures like Sojourner Truth and local civil rights activist Daisy Bates

SARAH TARAWALLY: Showing up to class, it made it fun; it made it easy because you were learning something you've never learned before. It wasn't just bookwork. It wasn't just talking about history. It was something that engaged everyone.

LENORA: The pilot AP African American Studies curriculum has four units, starting with ancient Africa, covering the slave trade, the Civil War and finishing with the civil rights movement. Last year, 60 schools across the country offered the pilot course to students. This year, the class is expanding to hundreds more.

Democratic State Senator Linda Chesterfield said she did not have a Black history class when she was growing up in a segregated school, so when she became a teacher, she had to incorporate African American history into her social studies curriculum on her own. She says she wanted all of her students to feel included in U.S. history.

LINDA CHESTERFIELD: White kids, Black kids, Asian kids, Hispanic kids all need to know what a wonderful role they have played in the development of this country.

LENORA: She asked Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva to explain the decision to scrap the AP African American Studies course.

CHESTERFIELD: I sent this text to Secretary Oliva, and I ask him very simply, why doesn't my history count? And his response was, we're working on getting some information together on that.

LENORA: The Arkansas Department of Education echoed this in a statement. They said they are reviewing the class materials to see if they contain so-called critical race theory or indoctrination. The College Board, which offers the AP class, says there's nothing in any of its courses that is about indoctrination.

Brandi Waters helped design the AP African American Studies course. It's still a young discipline, even though it's been around for about 70 years.

BRANDI WATERS: What we're really trying to do is to showcase how much has been discovered by this field since its inception and to prepare students to see that broader world through their own perspectives.

LENORA: Six schools that plan to offer the pilot course this year said they will still do so, but only as a local elective and not as an official AP class.

For NPR News, I'm Josie Lenora in Little Rock. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Josie Lenora