The Missing Piece to Our Nation’s History: African American History is American History - National Council of Teachers of English
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The Missing Piece to Our Nation’s History: African American History is American History

The National Coalition Against Censorship’s Student Advocates for Speech program was created in 2022 to provide participants with virtual advocacy training, opportunities to engage in national dialogues, and find outlets to amplify their voices. For the past two years, NCTE has worked in close partnership with NCAC on a project for student advocates to write op-eds about censorship issues that have particular meaning to them. For the next six weeks, these op-eds, written by students in the fall of 2023, will be featured here on the Literacy & NCTE blog. Student voices are often left out of conversations about policy, legislation, censorship, and access to a diverse and expansive education. NCTE and NCAC are proud to feature them here.


This blog post was written by Malaika Nyende, an eleventh-grade student in Southern California.

As we are starting a new academic year, all eyes are focused on the debut of AP African American studies. State governments nationwide are scrambling to assess the contents of the course and set regulations regarding its implementation. Shortly after the commencement of the 2023–2024 school year, Arkansas officials abruptly banned the teaching of this course, which is set to be enforced by retracting both college and high school course credit. The class was also banned by Florida’s governor after he signed the WOKE act last year, which forbids schools from teaching race-inclusive education. This led to some schools abandoning the curriculum mid school year just to avoid violating the law. With 18 Republican-led states including Texas and Virginia possessing similar laws that restrict education regarding race, and the Democratic-led states of Illinois and New Jersey refusing to accept the course if content is censored, AP African American studies lies directly in the middle of the political crosshairs regarding holistic education. But where do students stand?

In the midst of all of the conversation surrounding the relevance of the course, students’ opinions have been left out of the picture. As a Black female AP and honors student, I have long been accustomed to memorizing the standard—opinions of rich, white male historians, novelists, and philosophers. Students in elementary grades can recite that “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” before they can even tie their own shoes. How come we don’t all know the ways Black culture influences American culture, creating concepts ranging from rock music to cowboy culture. Aren’t my ancestors’ contributions equally as important? Why should I have to do extensive personal research to learn more about the history of this country? As a Black woman living in an America, where my contributions are not only unanticipated but undervalued, I want to hear the full truth and nothing but the truth so I can value the efforts that deserve it.

Out of the 38 AP courses available, less than 60 percent of Black high schoolers nationwide have enrolled in at least one. In most states, Black students participate in AP programs at rates 20 percent lower than their white and Asian counterparts, missing out on engaging in college-level work that will increase their probability for academic success. Offering advanced classes that engage this minority group is the key toward closing the achievement gap amidst other barriers to higher education.

As a first-generation African, I am eager to learn more about my roots from a perspective where Africans are not merely side characters or even economic instruments, but the focus of the story. On average, less than eight percent of time spent in high school history class is devoted to Black history, which is nowhere near enough time to cover the contributions of such a diverse group that makes up over 15 percent of the world. The course will begin with ancient African civilizations, prior to slavery, which is critical for students to view slavery as an interruption of African history, and not the focal or foundational point. Being the first AP course to include ethnic studies, this class will benefit students of all backgrounds academically, socially, and culturally through using multidisciplinary skills to comprehend historical experiences from socio-cultural viewpoints.

However, a rising number of states have banned this class in fear of  “indoctrination” or “lack of educational value.” While this course includes several controversial topics, these matters are included to express the full history of the Black American experience. Students will be provided with original documents and will apply their critical thinking skills in order to interpret and form their own decisions surrounding all topics.

This course is the first of the AP history collection to introduce intersectionality, utilizing skills from core subjects such as English literature and composition, US government and politics, art history, geography, and statistics. It also establishes Black history as a legitimate matter to be properly addressed in schools nationwide and ensures that Black students engage in advanced courses that interest them and ultimately receive the same advantages for academic success, closing the education and racial wealth gaps. African Americans have been singled out within this nation through systemic policies such as segregation, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration, and redlining. This course would not only bring injustices like these to light, it would help us create a way that the effects can be minimized and we can operate successfully alongside policies that are not for us. From there we can eliminate racial performance gaps, build generational wealth, and defeat the odds completely.

In other advanced history courses, Africans across the diaspora are seen as side characters, instruments for societal and economic benefit. It is time to take a step forward and own every aspect of our history—attempting to prevent students from learning about any part of our nation’s history is simply advocating for a romanticized version of our whole truth.



Hello! I’m Malaika. I am a rising junior at a public high school in Southern California, where I participate in Model United Nations and varsity track and field. I am passionate about restructuring the American education, justice, and healthcare systems and hope to help provide my peers a safe space to advocate for what they believe in through this program.



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