State Sen. Shevrin Jones slams Florida ban on AP African American studies class Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat, says the proposed course "wasn't indoctrination, it wasn't ideology, it was facts." He fears blocking it will harm students in Florida and beyond.

Florida's AP African American studies ban should raise alarm elsewhere, lawmaker says

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1150716064/1150716065" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a critique today of Florida's latest move to limit what schools can teach. The state department of education rejected an AP class - advanced placement. It was to be an African American studies class developed by the College Board, which shapes a lot of classes in this country. It's the latest example of the state limiting what can be taught or discussed in Florida classrooms. Governor Ron DeSantis signed two laws last year that limited how and when teachers could talk about things like racism and sexuality.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: We promised we would enact big education reforms. And we delivered.

INSKEEP: And they have now delivered an end to this AP class of African American history. The critique of that move comes from state Senator Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents part of Miami-Dade County. Senator, welcome to the program.

SHEVRIN JONES: Thank you for having me, Steve.

INSKEEP: I assume this is not the only class taught in Florida on Black history. So what was this class supposed to be, and where did it fit in?

JONES: Yes, Steve, this was actually a pilot program that had come down from College Board that 60 other school districts had already piloted. And there are actually teachers here within the state of Florida who have already reached out to me to let me know that they were a part of the planning committee, and they were excited about what was coming. It wasn't indoctrination. It wasn't ideology. It was facts that was in this curriculum that Governor DeSantis made it clear that, you know what? We're not going to teach that here in the state of Florida until you all go back and take out some of the woke ideology that you're pushing.

INSKEEP: What were some of the facts as you saw them that would be in this course? I mean, there's a lot you could focus on in African American history. What were they going to do?

JONES: Some of the things that they were speaking about in it was talking about the Black struggle. It was talking about the Black Lives Matter movement. It spoke about Black queerness. Those are some of the top three things that they spoke of. These are not issues that we should be shying away from or shielding away from students. These are the stories in the history of America's story that we should be embracing, and we should be ensuring that children understand this, and especially considering the fact that we offer European history. We offer Spanish history. We offer art history. All of these are part of the story in which make us that we should not be taking away from our children in the classroom.

INSKEEP: Now, the state education commissioner in making this move says, quote, "we proudly require the teaching of African American history." But then he goes on to just say, just not this version of history. Would you agree that African American history is still going to be taught somewhere?

JONES: I think that you're going to start seeing a lot of communities to start to teach African American history to children on their own. And the very fact that we are arguing that AP African American studies violates the state law - it just goes to highlight just how vague last year's Stop WOKE Act is and the danger that poses to the future of education within this state. This decision - it just totally illustrates just how far this administration is willing to weaponize policies under the guise of individual freedom, when in fact, we are taking away rights from our students and truthfully, from their parents.

INSKEEP: There is, in the education department's defense of its action, a lot of, I think, what can fairly be called labeling, saying certain writers are discussed in the program who are self-avowed communists or Marxists or leftists, that sort of thing. I guess that's the first question here. Is it all right to have people from a leftist perspective as part of an AP class?

JONES: Well, I'll be honest with you, as we look at the AP courses and the level of students who are taking these courses, it is college-level classes that is exploratory. We send our children to school to learn. We send them - we're not sending - the teachers are not in the classroom indoctrinating or telling children how they should feel based on others and what they've done in history. We teach an array of different things in the classroom, not just for perspective, but also for individuals to see from the millions of others. When we start banning books of individuals like Angela Davis, when we start banning books like the letters from the Birmingham jail by Martin Luther King - those writers were writing from their perspective, from their time, from that moment in history.

INSKEEP: Is it your understanding the state objected to the letter from the Birmingham jail by Martin Luther King?

JONES: The one - those were one of the books that have been banned under the state of Florida, of the list of books that need to be reviewed from the department of education. And that list came out last year.

INSKEEP: There is also an objection to Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia Law School and UCLA. And Florida describes Crenshaw as, quote, "the founder of intersectionality." I feel we need to explain for at least some of our listeners what intersectionality is, and why would anyone find it threatening?

JONES: Well, it's - when we're studying - that's the one thing about African American studies because it is cross-intersectional. I mean, we're not just talking about it from the perspective of - from the Black movement. We're talking about how this plays into other lives, how it plays into our immigrant community, how it plays into our LGBT community. And this is just not a Florida problem. Florida is just the testing ground, but people across the country should be concerned that legislatures and governors across the country are going to do exactly what Florida is doing. And we have the potential of raising a entire generation of Black children who will not be able to see themselves represented in their own state or in education. And this is just a glimpse into the tone and tenor of what a possible Ron DeSantis run for president will look like.

INSKEEP: Of course, this has been described as a crusade in part for parents' rights. What are you hearing from parents who are on your side of the debate, in a few seconds?

JONES: The last thing is we - just yesterday a group of parents, Black parents, have made it clear that they're coming up to Tallahassee on Wednesday because they want to be a part of this fight to ensure that our history is taught, it is factual, and that students have the same experience that every child should have in learning about the history of this country and what has happened across this world.

INSKEEP: Florida state Senator Shevrin Jones. Pleasure talking with you, sir. Thank you so much.

JONES: It's - the pleasure's all mine.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

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.