Inside a Brooklyn School Teaching the Course That Florida Banned

Halfway through a year-long high school course in African American studies, Shannah Henderson-Amare asked her students to think about college — but with a question many have never heard of. previous class: Will they be able to name the “Divine Nine”? nickname for a group of black fraternities and sororities of the nation?

One senior immediately replied, “Kappas!”



“Questions!” others shouted in succession.

For these New York City high school seniors, the assignment serves as the gateway to the day’s discussion of historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCU — their history, influence and modern relevance. The lesson is part of the new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies.

The College Board, which administers Advanced Placement exams, introduced this class in the fall. It is being tested in about 60 schools this year, before become widely popular in the fall of 2024. But the course has been pushed into a national firestorm Later Florida banned itone of the series of moves states have taken to restrict teaching about race.

Officials have argued that the approach to issues includes Black gay research, compensation and intersection both unbalanced and illegal. Several other states, including Arkansas and Mississippihave now issued their own reviews of the course material.

Still, other cities and statesincluding New Jersey, yes pressed forward and plans to expand the class.

In New York City, Brooklyn Preparatory High School in Williamsburg is the only school to hold the class this year. Education officials said it remains unclear how many New York schools will offer the course next year.

Students and families at Brooklyn Prep and elsewhere in the city have called for Blacks: Three years ago, they were among nearly 30,000 people. signed a petition asking the College Board to create two classes on this topic. To date, students on the course say it has been one of the most valuable experiences of their school years, because it allows them to focus on the life and history of Blacks in addition to original principles. basic principles of slavery and civil rights.

Khia Williams, 18, a senior in the class, said: “What struck me was the conversations we started to have: The people who didn’t talk in the class found their voices. She added that she had previously only had similar conversations with her grandmother and other family members.

As unrest flared across the country following the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020, teenagers at Brooklyn Prep, where about 40 percent of students are Black and half Latino, have helped. led a petition for the course after expressing disappointment that there were no AP courses available for the tough issues they were discussing at home and in the classroom.

When the pilot course was initially announced, Brooklyn Prep was not among the high schools invited to participate, but Ms. Henderson-Amare pushed the school to be included. Nearly 170 interested teenagers signed up for the class, accounting for nearly one-third of the entire school. (About 30 students eventually signed up.)

On a recent Thursday, during HBCU class, which used to be main road for black Americans To obtain a higher education, the teacher guided the students through a discussion involving a variety of issues.

A student who connected schools to the 20th century The “New Negro” Movement And tension between differing views on the advancement of blacks in America. Classmates consider WEB Du Bois’ emphasis on liberal arts education and a more confrontational approach to equality for Booker T. Washington’s belief that building job skills career and long-term distinction leads to achievement.

The teenagers then discussed how old ideas still play a role in modern debates about Black social progress. Some discussed how proud their parents were of their culture but also told them to be careful about how they express their racial and ethnic identity, or “code conversion,” in a predominantly white professional or social space.

“I feel like it’s some kind of generational trauma,” one student replied. “My mom always told me, ‘When you go out, pay attention to how you talk because people will look at you and judge you.’ She said, ‘I want you to do better for yourself than me.’”

At the beginning of the school year, students were particularly interested in lingering in a unit that focuses on black protest, Ms. Henderson-Amare said. The room erupted into lively conversations during lessons about groups like chestnutAfrican slaves who lived in places including Jamaica, Colombia and Suriname and who escaped to freedom centuries ago.

The students also analyzed the meaning of the hymn.”Lift each voice and sing,” widely known as the Blacks national anthem; Many people are not fully aware of the theme of resilience, endurance, and struggle in the lyrics.

Leon Woolford, 17, a senior at the school, said he realized his understanding of the more famous parts of Black history was still incomplete.

He was surprised during a recent lesson on Free Racerwho rode a bus across the South in 1961 challenged public transportation discrimination and set the stage for important civil rights legislation: “I think I at least know something, and I had a completely wrong idea,” he said.

Mr. Woolford said in primary and secondary school he was less involved in discussions. But when the AP class delved into Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask,” about how Blacks can hide parts of their identity and struggles with society, he said it considers ” what we do is so much more important every day.”

The students were promoted the opportunity to explore issues beyond those of the course. Kwanzaa, for example, is not mentioned in the curriculum. But the class celebrated the holiday in December, and students created projects on seven principles The centerpiece of the week-long celebration.

Students say the AP course has made many consider their futures in new ways.

At the end of the HBCU lesson, Ms. Henderson-Amare asked the class to weigh the value of those types of schools compared to predominantly white institutions, and between academic higher education versus vocational learning. career and technology as potential avenues to a better life.

A student asked: “What does it mean to have a good life?”

The teenagers quickly began to integrate, considering the importance of a high-paying career compared to other paths to a rich and contented life, until it was time for the next grade. .


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