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Ron DeSantis Bests College Board

The College Board revised its African American Studies course after pushback spearheaded by the Florida governor.

Happy Friday! Sheetz announced Thursday it was scrapping its longtime “smile policy,” which prohibited the Pennsylvania-based convenience store and gas station chain from hiring applicants with “missing, broken, or badly discolored teeth.”

Good luck to any of our dentist readers—that rule was the last thing standing between your industry and total oblivion.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Defense Department said Thursday evening they were tracking a “high-altitude surveillance balloon”—reportedly belonging to China—over the continental United States. The balloon has been traveling over the northern U.S.—it was spotted in Montana, where one of the United States’ three nuclear missile silo fields is located—but Pentagon officials said it poses no military or physical threat, and its intelligence gathering capabilities were “limited.” Two Air Force F-22 fighter jets were reportedly scrambled upon discovery of the balloon, but the Biden administration decided against shooting it down over concerns falling debris could injure people on the ground. Canada’s Department of National Defense also reported a surveillance balloon sighting on Thursday; it’s unclear if it’s the same one.
  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters in Manila Thursday the United States had struck a deal with the Philippines to gain access to four additional military installations in the country, putting American troops in a strategic position to respond to a theoretical conflict between China and Taiwan. The agreement stipulates the troops stationed on these bases will not remain there permanently, but Austin touted the move as a “really big deal” while China’s foreign ministry slammed the U.S. for “exacerbating tension in the region.”
  • Chief Ukrainian Prosecutor Andriy Kostin announced Wednesday that—in an effort to crack down embezzlement and bribery—his office had opened investigations into six former defense ministry officials and raided the homes of both the former interior minister and a billionaire backer of President Volodymyr Zelensky. The investigations are part of a larger push by Zelensky to crack down on corruption as billions of Western aid dollars flow into the country. “Corruption in war is looting!” Kostin wrote. “My signal to all officials at all levels, wherever they are: There will be no return to the past.”
  • Swedish Justice Minister Gunnar Strommer introduced a new terrorism law Thursday that would ban any activity promoting terrorist organizations, even if it’s not associated with a specific act of terrorism. The law has been in the works for years but could strengthen Sweden’s NATO bid, which has been held up by Turkey over concerns Stockholm isn’t doing enough to counter the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
  • The House of Representatives on Thursday voted along party lines, 218-211, to remove Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee. One Republican, Rep. Dave Joyce of Ohio, voted present on the resolution, which Republicans said was driven by Omar’s strident criticism of the Israeli government—criticism that leaders of both parties have condemned as antisemitic. Omar will remain on the Budget Committee and Education and Workforce Committee.
  • House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday that Sarah Huckabee Sanders—the nation’s youngest governor and the first woman to be elected to the office in Arkansas—will deliver the Republican response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. Freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani of Arizona will also deliver a Spanish-language response to Biden’s speech.
  • The FBI is coordinating with former Vice President Mike Pence’s staff to conduct a search of his Indiana home for additional classified documents, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Pence’s lawyers searched the property last month and discovered classified materials from his time as vice president, which they turned over to the FBI January 19. The search by the Bureau would follow sweeps of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-lago property and of Biden’s two Delaware homes and think tank office in Washington, D.C.
  • Biden announced Thursday Brian Deese—the director of the National Economic Council—will step down in mid-February after serving for more than two years in the role. Biden is reportedly planning to appoint Lael Brainard—currently Federal Reserve vice chair—to succeed Deese at the NEC, and longtime economic aide Jared Bernstein to chair the Council of Economic Advisers.
  • The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims—a proxy for layoffs—decreased by 3,000 week-over-week to a seasonally adjusted 183,000 last week, the lowest level since April 2022 and an indication the labor market remains tight despite layoffs at a number of high-profile companies.

The College Board Backs Down

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives a speech in Tampa. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush fought his way to the presidency on a platform of personal responsibility, compassionate conservatism, and tax cuts. In 2024, another southern governor, Ron DeSantis is hoping fights with Disney World, pharmaceutical companies, and the College Board will propel him to the White House.

Depending on where you get your news when you’re not reading TMD, you may have heard some rumblings in recent days about DeSantis’ efforts to “block” public schools from teaching African American history, all but “erasing” black Americans’ experiences. That’d be horrible if it were true—but it’s not. 

What the Florida governor has done in conjunction with the state’s department of education is much less dramatic: reject the draft version of a new Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course that would supplement schools’ existing instruction on black history. As Jonah noted last week, the course was only being taught in one pilot program in one Florida school when DeSantis squashed it, “so he’s not really removing anything from the existing curriculum.”

Advanced Placement courses are by no means ubiquitous—just about a third of graduating high schoolers took an AP exam in 2021–but they’re designed to offer high schoolers a taste of college-level instruction and a chance to earn some college credits. The College Board regularly adds new courses, and already offers a number of classes on specific regions and peoples—European and world history, Spanish/German/Chinese language and culture, and so forth. 

The College Board has been workshopping the new AP African American Studies (APAAS) course with hundreds of professors’ input for several years, most recently piloting it in about 60 schools nationwide. A leaked draft of the curriculum framework from February 2022 included lots of what you might naturally expect to be included: geography of ancient African empires, exploration of faith among free and enslaved African Americans, art during the Harlem Renaissance, and dozens of other lessons on history, culture, economics, and more.

“Most people think that the first 90, 95 percent was fine,” said Chester Finn, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution who served as an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration. “And then there was this 5 percent dealing with current issues and current theories. And that’s where all the flap arose.”

The flap-inducing portion of the course came in the 2022 framework’s final section, “Movements and Debates,” which included discussion of reparations, Black Lives Matter, intersectionality, and other politically charged contemporary topics. The unit was enough to push Florida’s Department of Education over the edge. “As presented, the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value,” the agency wrote to the College Board on January 12. “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.”

By “Florida law,” the letter was referring to the so-called Stop WOKE Act banning critical race theory and indoctrination in Florida public schools. FDOE argued the inclusion of works from theorists and activists like Kimberlé Crenshaw, Angela Davis, and bell hooks in the proposed AP African American Studies course constituted a violation of the law. Noting Florida already requires elements of African American history to be taught in schools, DeSantis took umbrage with the more theoretical and contemporary topics. “What’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory,” he said. “When you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons—that’s a political agenda.” Other critics of the course complained that discussion of more radical theories included reading recommendations from proponents of those theories, not skeptics.

The pushback may have worked. On Wednesday, the College Board published a revised course framework stripped of many of the topics DeSantis and the FDOE took issue with. Though the College Board insisted its final curriculum was largely finished in December before DeSantis piped up, the edits—which College Board leaders said reflect feedback that secondary and theoretical sources were less popular among students—echo the Floridian wishlist. Gone are Crenshaw, Davis, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose work includes arguments for reparations. While African empires, slavery, reconstruction, and Civil Rights all remain, the unit on Black Lives Matter and other more contemporary topics has given way to more time for independent projects. Instead, Black Lives Matter is alongside “black conservatism” on an “illustrative only” list of suggested project topics.

It’s not yet clear whether these changes will make the course acceptable to the FDOE; DeSantis told reporters Wednesday he hadn’t seen the updated version of the course. But those who favored the original iteration have expressed frustration with the College Board for the revisions. California Gov. Gavin Newsom labeled the body a “puppet of Ron DeSantis” on Wednesday, while others accused it of “caving” to a “campaign to silence black voices.”

Still, Finn says the College Board’s official timeline of events isn’t that implausible. “Revising an AP framework is like turning an aircraft carrier,” he told The Dispatch. “Like anything else involving college faculty, it’s just slow and argumentative. … This isn’t some isolated author sitting in the College Board office just playing with his computer program and rewriting words.”

Critics of the changes don’t necessarily care why they were made. “I do not know why they got rid of Black Lives Matter and critical race theory as required subjects, but here’s what I do know: That’s an enormous mistake,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education history at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. “You can now study the AP African American Studies curriculum [without] ever addressing Black Lives Matter. … BLM is one of the most important social movements that’s happened in recent American history—even its critics will admit that.” Zimmerman argued officials worried about indoctrination on fraught subjects should instead focus on better teacher training.

DeSantis and his representatives will likely claim the course rewrite as a victory regardless of how it came about, but APAAS is just one front in the governor’s education battle. His administration has also launched a plan to “remake” New College, a small public school with a left-wing reputation, into what one new trustee described as a “Hillsdale of the South,” referencing a private Christian college in Michigan known for its emphasis on Western tradition and liberal arts curriculum. DeSantis announced a budget request of $15 million to fund the effort and appointed a raft of new trustees, including anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo, Hillsdale D.C. campus dean Matthew Spalding, and Eddie Speir, a Christian school head in Florida. Spier recommended New College cancel all faculty and staff contracts, and Rufo tweeted about “recapturing” higher education. Fellow new appointee Mark Bauerlein—a senior editor of First Things Journal who has worked in higher education—has struck a more moderate tone, noting a public university should maintain “a certain measure of pluralism.”

DeSantis’ education agenda doesn’t stop with New College. Along with pushing an emphasis on preparing students to fill Florida’s workforce needs and moves to weaken tenure, DeSantis aims to ban state universities from paying for diversity, equity, and inclusion programs—even with non-state funding. At a press conference, DeSantis said he hopes such programs “wither on the vine,” and his office called them “discriminatory.” And all these initiatives follow the enactment of the “Stop WOKE Law,” which has caused course disruptions and confusion among teachers about what books they can keep in their classrooms.

It’s hard not to see these education efforts—alongside largely symbolic moves like trying to end the sales tax on gas stoves—as DeSantis’ efforts to keep his national star on the rise, with an eye toward the 2024 presidential election. Presidential hopefuls including Donald Trump and Nikki Haley have taken a stab at proposing education reform and criticizing critical race theory, though no other governor has so far opposed introducing an AP course. “[DeSantis is] running for president with the help of the culture wars,” said Finn. “It’s a little icky, but it’s not surprising.”

Worth Your Time

  • It’s one thing for the family business to be law or medicine—but how about a long and storied lineage of human cannonballs? In a piece for Narratively, Abigail Edge tells the story of the Smith family, who have been shooting themselves out of a compressed air cannon since the 1970s. “By 1984, Jean and David Sr. had five children, ranging in age from 6 months to 15 years,” she writes. “The Smith children spent their youth traveling to shows all over North America, watching their dad get shot out of a cannon. No matter where they went, Cannonball Smith was treated like a rock star. ‘It was just what my dad was,’ says Jennifer. ‘I didn’t think it was strange until I was older.’ While other kids their age played at arcades or hung out at the mall, the Smith clan spent their days playing on trampolines in between shows, learning to do flips and taking turns shooting their dad out of the cannon. The phrase ‘don’t try this at home’ did not apply.”
  • When HP can remotely block your printer because your credit card expired, the digital subscription trend may have gone too far. “Here was a piece of technology that I had paid more than $200 for, stocked with full ink cartridges. My printer, gently used, was sitting on my desk in perfect working order but rendered useless by Hewlett-Packard, a tech corporation with a $28 billion market cap at the time of writing, because I had failed to make a monthly payment for a service intended to deliver new printer cartridges that I did not yet need,” Charlie Warzel writes for The Atlantic, struggling to contain his “fury” over the extortion. “I am sheepish to air this grievance aloud, lest it be seen as an abuse of my venerable platform. I am an adult of somewhat sound mind and have the ability to read contracts: I did this to myself. But my printer’s shakedown is just one example of how digital subscriptions have permeated physical tech so thoroughly that they are blurring the lines of ownership. Even if I paid for it, can I really say that I own my printer if HP can flip a switch and make it inert?”
  • In a piece for The Bulwark, Balázs Gulyás recaps the international fiasco right-wing author Rod Dreher unintentionally set off when he published on his American Conservative blog private remarks made by Hungarian President Viktor Orbán. “Since Rod Dreher grew up in the United States, he didn’t know that in an autocratic country like Orbán’s Hungary, friendly agents in the media (I’m intentionally eschewing the word ‘journalist’) are not allowed to write down and publish exactly what they heard if it goes against the interests of their politicians/employers,” Gulyás notes. Revealing comments about wanting to leave the European Union and being in a war with Russia? Against Orbán’s interests. “So Rod, employing a solution not uncommon in autocratic countries, rewrote the article to change its meaning. The original headline: ‘Viktor Orban: ‘We Are In A War With Russia’’ was changed to ‘Viktor Orban: West Is ‘In A War With Russia,’’ and Orbán’s lines about wanting to take Hungary out of the EU were replaced by the exact opposite.”

Something Interesting

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Toeing the Company Line

  • Fans of chronology, hold onto your hats! As of this week, our website has a new “Latest” tab that compiles everything we put out—newsletters, articles, podcasts—in the order that we publish it. Either click this link or navigate to “Latest” from the main menu—you’ll never miss a piece of content again.
  • David Drucker made his first Dispatch Podcast appearance on Thursday, joining Sarah, Jonah, and Kevin for a discussion of the Tyre Nichols tragedy and the root causes of bad policing. Plus: House committee assignments, Nikki Haley’s presidential hopes, and the mysteries overtaking the Dallas Zoo.
  • On the site today, Harvest reports on the latest chapter of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and Gregg Girvan explores why it took the pharmaceutical market so long to produce a generic version of a popular drug. 

Let Us Know

Do you think there’s value for high school students in a course devoted entirely to African American studies? Or is African American history best taught in the context of U.S. history more broadly?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.