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DeSantis defends rejecting AP African American studies course, says it's "indoctrination"

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GOP rivalry brewing between Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis 09:19

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday defended his decision to block a high school Advanced Placement course on African American studies, saying the course's inclusion of lessons on Black queer theory and the prison abolition movement didn't meet the state's standards. 

"We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don't believe they should have an agenda imposed on them," he said, calling the course "indoctrination."

On Jan. 12, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) sent a letter to the College Board, which handles all AP courses, in Florida saying that the content of the AP African American studies course "is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value." 

"In the future, should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content, FDOE will always be willing to reopen the discussion," the FDOE said in the letter. 

In a one-page letter outlining concerns with the course, the FDOE takes issue with six topics listed within the proposed course curriculum, and their proposed readings: intersectionality and activism, Black queer studies, "Movements for Black Lives," "Black Feminist Literary Thought," reparations, and "Black Study and the Black Struggle in the 21st Century."

Ron DeSantis on Jan. 23, 2023. Gov. Ron DeSantis / Facebook

In their concern with the topic of "Black Queer Studies," the FDOE notes there is a required reading by Yale University professor Roderick Ferguson, who is listed as a professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies.  The FDOE pointed to an interview where he said, "We have to encourage and develop practices whereby queerness isn't a surrender to the status quos of race, class, gender and sexuality. It means building forms of queerness that reject the given realities of the government and the market."

DeSantis on Monday said the course is "somebody pushing an agenda on our kids" and said "who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory?

"When you try to use black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes," he added.

DeSantis also noted his department's issue with the "Movements for Black Lives" topic, including the movement to eliminate prisons and jails. 

"How is that being taught as fact?" DeSantis said. "And I also think it's not fair to say that somehow abolishing prisons is somehow linked to, like, Black experience, that's what Black people want. I don't think that's true at all.  I think they want law and order just like anybody else wants law and order," he said.

"That is more of ideology being used under the guise of history," he said. "That's what our standards for Black history are. It's just cut and dried history. You learn all the basics, you learn about the great figures, and you know, I view it as American history. I don't view it as separate history."

In their list of concerns, the FDOE also characterized "intersectionality," or the connection of race, class and gender and how they are applied to a certain group, as "foundational to [critical race theory]."

The FDOE also took issue with proposed readings not just from Ferguson but also from law professor Kimberle Crenshaw, who the department calls the "founder" of intersectionality; activist Angela Davis, who they cite as a "self-avowed Communist and Marxist"'; Rutgers professor Leslie Kay Jones and the late feminist author bell hooks. 

And they say "all points in resources in this study advocate for reparations. There is no critical perspective or balancing opinion in this lesson."

Florida law requires the study of African American history in schools, from slavery through abolition to "the history and contributions of Americans of the African diaspora to society." DeSantis on Monday noted that this AP course is a separate course than the one for advanced placement credit.

The statute that requires the teaching of African American history, says "classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles enumerated in… the state academic standards."

CBS News has reached out to the College Board for a statement and a copy of the course's syllabus. DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement 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."

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has criticized DeSantis and helped his challenger Charlie Crist in 2022, Tweeted that DeSantis "has decided black history is irrelevant and 'lacks educational value.'" 

"Apparently "freedom" means erasing our history and limiting speech," Newsom tweeted.

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