Right in the middle of National School Choice Week, conservative politicians and regulators in Florida are fighting against the introduction of a Black history class that would help high school students earn college credit. Florida conservatives are telling families who support school choice that they can’t even choose their kids’ classes.
The College Board is a nonprofit organization that administers college entrance exams and develops Advanced Placement (AP) courses for high school students that earn them college credits. They’ve developed a pilot program for an African American Studies class that they plan to launch in 60 schools across the U.S. over the next school year. They did intend for one Florida school to offer the class. They hope to start offering the class in all high schools by the 2024-25 school year and begin administering exams in Spring 2025. High school students who pass those exams could earn college credit for taking the class.
Florida’s Department of Education looked at the class, and flat-out rejected it, with officials saying it would indoctrinate students with “a political agenda” and lacked educational value. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Bryan Griffin said, “As submitted, the course is a vehicle for a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”
Well, it is a history class, after all. Once you get past the names and dates, history studies political agendas and ideology. Certainly, that would have to be the case for a Black history class in America.
Florida last year passed the Stop WOKE Act, which attempts to censor how schools and even private businesses teach about race, prohibiting the inclusion of the various ideas connected to critical race theory. The law is being challenged by multiple parties in court as an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment. It’s not going well for Florida. An injunction has halted enforcement of the business component of the law. Another injunction has halted enforcement of the law against college professors, with one federal judge describing the law as “positively dystopian.”
Yet, the fragmented law still currently applies to students in secondary education. So even though Florida can’t stop colleges from teaching these concepts, they can stop high schools from doing so, even if that means depriving students of potential college credits.
That the law is in tatters and an unconstitutional abridgment of speech didn’t stop Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. from essentially bragging on Twitter that they’re stopping the class for violating this law and listing all the things the state doesn’t approve of in the class.
DeSantis says he supports school choice, and indeed signed into law last year legislation dramatically expanding the ability of parents to choose alternatives to public education for their children. But school choice is not just about the type of schools or the methods by which students are taught. If school choice means anything, it should mean that parents, not politicians and regulators, should ultimately call the shots on the type of education their kids should receive. If it’s not okay for Democrats to do it, then it’s not okay for Republicans, either.
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No AP class is mandatory. Parents and students can decide whether they want to it. DeSantis, Diaz and others in government have no business deciding what is and is not “indoctrination.” If families and students don’t want to take the class, it will fail. But I suspect the problem is not that students don’t want to take the class. You don’t have to ban ideas that aren’t popular. The problem is that people want to learn what this class offers, progressive bent and all (the College Board insists the class does not teach critical race theory and is still adjusting the course framework).
School choice is supposed to apply to all families, not just DeSantis supporters. When it’s possible, it should even apply to students in public schools. Let the class succeed or fail based on voluntary enrollment and AP scores, not because politicians and bureaucrats decided on parents’ and students’ behalves. This isn’t just about telling teachers what they’re allowed to say. It’s also about telling students what they’re allowed to hear.
Scott Shackford is an associate editor at Reason magazine and Reason.com. Founded in 1968, Reason is the nation’s leading libertarian magazine.