The College Board, the nonprofit that devises Advanced Placement (AP) courses, recently announced its AP psychology course was effectively banned by the Florida Board of Education. The course discusses psychological concepts aligned with current research about gender and sexuality that violate Florida’s abhorrent “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The College Board has rightly refused to censor science for Florida politicians’ ideological agenda. The nonprofit has a powerful place in the United States education system, and its commitment to academically sound courses presents an obstacle that Florida’s Board of Education is struggling to overcome in its censorship campaign.
The education board demanded the College Board sign an “assurance document” that its AP courses would not violate Florida’s rules. The College Board declined and clarified that AP psychology must be taught in its entirety in order for students to receive credits. The College Board then released a statement that Florida law effectively banned AP psychology since the nonprofit refused to alter the course. The state’s board of education later walked back its position, saying AP psychology could be taught in its “entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate.”
Amid back-to-school season in Florida, some schools remain unsure about just where the course stands in terms of Florida law, as the class clearly discusses the psychology behind gender, sexual orientation and gender identity which directly contradicts Florida laws. Many schools plan to forego the course this fall, preferring to protect their teachers from possible felony charges.
This is not the first time Florida butted heads with the College Board. Florida’s Board of Education rejected AP African American studies curriculum even after the College Board revised the course to remove important intellectual figures like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Roderick Ferguson and Ta-Nehisi Coates and make coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement optional. Arkansas recently followed suit. Critics argue the College Board watered down critical parts of the subject, obscuring its contemporary implications. The pilot course has become very popular among high school students, in states where it’s offered.
At the root of Florida’s controversy with the College Board (and education in general) is a political agenda aligned with the election cycle: Presidential hopeful Gov. Ron DeSantis has led the charge in chipping away at the integrity of Florida’s education system. As a former student of Florida’s largest school districts in one of its bluest counties, I can attest that Florida education prior to DeSantis’s efforts was far from what he would describe as “woke.”
My classes weren’t discussing gender, sexuality, queerness or critical race theory to begin with. If anything, there was a devastating lack of education addressing the experiences of diverse students like me. During high school, I was so discouraged about the lack of opportunities to discuss Black history that I created a Black History Month exhibit to fill in the educational gaps I faced. I hosted a monthly history exhibit of posters, cultural artifacts and signs outside the cafeteria in February. I discussed Black historical figures, the civil rights movement, and Black contributions to the arts, music, science and literature. I hoped that I could share critical information about Black history and communities, which was mostly left out in our formal education. So I’m astonished to witness DeSantis claim he’s fighting a war on “woke” education in Florida when the state’s education has always been on the conservative side. What is DeSantis actually fighting against?
It’s no coincidence that DeSantis’s interest in Florida education and censorship coincides with his presidential bid. During his gubernatorial campaign and first few years as governor, he didn’t have much to say about public school curricula. His biggest qualms with schools in 2020 were mask mandates. DeSantis’s focus on school curricula emerged in 2022 after former President Donald Trump’s reelection defeat, and subsequent loss of support in the Republican Party.
Prior to 2022, DeSantis was seen as Trump’s loyal protégé, who backed him at every turn. As DeSantis received media attention and favorable polling in 2022 as a possible alternative to Trump, he needed to step out of Trump’s shadow: He tapped into the “parents’ rights movement” that gained momentum during COVID-19 and fixated on education as his primary policy.
Taking a page from Trump’s media playbook, DeSantis’s focus on Florida education is designed to gin up outrage — and coverage. DeSantis branded himself a “moderate” when he ran as governor in 2019, but has shifted even to Trump’s right since hitting the presidential campaign trail. Within just three short years of his open acknowledgement of the LGBT+ victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, he has outlawed any mention of LGBT+ people at schools in a desperate attempt to attract Trump’s base. His sensationalist “Don’t Say Gay” or “STOP Woke” laws have made political pawns of Florida students.
Every time the Florida Board of Education bans an AP class, it is effectively making Florida students less competitive when applying to colleges. This gives the College Board a considerable amount of power to pressure the state, since the state risks students having less access to competitive courses recognized by colleges. In the case of AP psychology, Florida’s Board of Education backed down when the College Board called them on their bluff, refusing to water down science for DeSantis’s political games.
As a queer Floridian, I see the College Board’s refusal to censor AP psychology as a small victory: having a few paragraphs in my psychology book about gender and sexuality was better than nothing. Still, Florida students continue to struggle with a board of education more interested in political ideology, optics and elections than academics. As DeSantis continues his presidential bid, it’s likely that Floridians’ education will suffer at the cost of political theater.
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