Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Education

Spokane high school teacher using AP African American studies materials defends curriculum

Feb. 12, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 15, 2023 at 9:19 a.m.

A sample page of the framework for the AP African American Studies course looks at the Black Power movement in connection with the fight for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.  (College Board)
A sample page of the framework for the AP African American Studies course looks at the Black Power movement in connection with the fight for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. (College Board)

When Jennifer Showalter saw the immediate criticism of the framework for the new Advanced Placement African American Studies course, she questioned whether people were actually understanding what was in it.

“It happened within minutes of the release of the framework,” Showalter, an English Literature teacher at Lewis and Clark High School, said of the criticism. “There was just an initial, knee-jerk reaction to this misinformation.”

Showalter responded last year to a request from the College Board, the nonprofit that runs the AP program, to pilot materials for its new African American Studies course. She’s been incorporating them into her African American Literature class, an elective that students can take for college credit in partnership with Eastern Washington University.

Spokane Public Schools is in the initial process of evaluating the materials for potential inclusion in a future course, said Susie Gerard, the district’s secondary social studies coordinator. No decision will be made about adopting the course until the 2024-25 school year.

“This is very early in the conversation, and there are many steps to come before an adoption decision would be made,” Gerard wrote. That includes a review of the instructional material by district staff, including a principal and educators designated by the superintendent, for adherence to the curriculum.

Showalter said criticism of the framework’s content, including from those concerned that the College Board was bowing to political pressure over concepts covered in the course, was based on a misunderstanding of the documents released by the organization and how they planned to include additional reading materials in the lessons.

“Honestly, the curriculum is almost the same as what we teach in African American Literature,” Showalter said. “There’s more varied sources. It’s more rigorous.”

Leadership of the College Board have pushed back in recent days on suggestions that the final curriculum wouldn’t include controversial thinkers and topics, including the work of Kimberle Crenshaw on the theory of intersectionality and how identities result in discrimination and privilege. That work, and others, will be made available for free to those taking the course, David Coleman, chief executive officer of the College Board, told NPR earlier this month.

“No authors have been banned from the course,” he said on NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Feb. 3. “And in fact, we’re going to lift them up and make them freely available.”

Coleman also told the outlet that revisions to the content were made in late 2022, before Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proclaimed the curriculum violated state law and would thus be prohibited from Florida classrooms. Timestamps prove that the content was not changed in response to political statements, Coleman said.

The College Board released a lengthy statement Saturday repudiating claims by the Florida Department of Education that it had influenced the content of the course, clarifying that the controversial materials would be available to students and acknowledging “mistakes in the rollout that are being exploited.”

“Our commitment to AP African American Studies is unwavering,” the statement says. “This will be the most rigorous, cohesive immersion that high school students have ever had in this discipline.”

Showalter’s students have been responding in class to the news coverage of the framework’s release, she said. The goal of the course is to promote the type of critical thinking skills that will be useful in college, she said, and will illuminate a part of history many of her students haven’t heard in a classroom.

“My students have said, ‘This is really important, we need to learn this. I’ve never learned this before,’ ” Showalter said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a College Board statement, released after the deadline of the original story, that challenges the Florida Department of Education and clarifies the availability of certain class materials. 

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.