What Black history is taught in SC? Education department says it’s enough, others disagree

Many local Black leaders are troubled by the decision to discontinue advanced placement African American Studies in South Carolina public schools. The state Department of Education maintains that Black history is already being sufficiently taught in the state’s schools.

The advanced placement class, which gave students the ability to earn college credit while still in high school, is a rigorous, interdisciplinary approach to examining the African American experience from the African diaspora to the Civil Rights Movement.

In a June 4 memo, the state department of education abruptly announced that after two years of the pilot program, South Carolina schools would not be able to offer African American Studies as an advance placement course, though it can be taught as an honors elective if schools so choose.

“The state education department maintains its unwavering commitment to teaching the factual historical experience of African Americans to our students,” C. Matthew Ferguson, deputy state superintendent, wrote in the memo. “We will continue to proactively seek ways to highlight the innumerable contributions black South Carolinians have made to our state, our nation, and the world.”’

But some feel that taking away AP African American Studies while still offering AP European History sends a clear message.

“It allows a separate and unequal doctrine, that establishes the course as unworthy of being AP,” Jennifer Bartell Boykin, a teacher at Spring Valley High School and and Columbia’s poet laureate, said on Tuesday.

Rep. Jermaine Johnson, D-Richland, called it “whitewashing” history.

“Some have used this decision to promote a false narrative that South Carolina is avoiding the teaching of African American history thereby denying historical fact and dishonoring African Americans and their rich contributions to our state,” the state education department said in another memo. “This is simply not so.”

The state first implemented expectations to teach students Black history by the 1989-90 academic year as part of regular history and social studies courses, and it was the job of the state Board of Education to find and develop materials for such instruction.

Current social studies college and career ready standards were last approved in 2019, and outline the topics history, economics, geography and government that South Carolina students should learn.

Students first start to learn United States and South Carolina history in elementary school and should continue through high school.

In fourth and fifth grade, students are supposed to have lessons spanning from colonization through the Civil War and the Reconstruction era through the 1920s, including the effects of triangular trade on enslaved Africans and its role in the British colonies, the expansion and abolition of slavery in the 19th century, the development of Black codes and Jim Crow laws.

In sixth and seventh grades, students are supposed to explore world history and geography, including African societies.

In eighth grade, there is a focus on South Carolina, including the state’s history with slavery, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

High school United States history classes have a wide scope, but do include Black contributions to the World Wars and the Civil Rights Movement.

But the state’s social studies standards are due for a routine review, the education department has said. And since the most recent update, a wave of efforts to limit what is taught in the state’s public schools have permeated the General Assembly.

A state budget proviso, which was first enacted several years ago and set for the upcoming budget, dictates that state funds cannot be used to teach certain concepts about the race and sex of an individual.

H. 3728, the “South Carolina Transparency and Integrity in Education Act,” that would prohibit “certain topics” — namely those related to critical race theory — from being taught in public schools, is in conference committee. The bill, called the “Transparency and Integrity in Education Act,” would prohibit public schools from suggesting that by virtue of a student’s race or sex, that student bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin. It would also allow a review of a school’s curriculum and instructional materials by parents and the public.

It has yet to be seen how these laws might impact on current public school curriculum. But the state education department said it working to ensure course offerings are aligned with updated standards and state law — one of the reasons it cited as stopping AP African American Studies and the “significant controversy” surrounding the course.