Gov. Murphy Knocks DeSantis and Expands African American Studies

New Jersey will expand a high school course in African American Studies to 25 schools across the state, Gov. Philip D. Murphy announced this week, a move that inserted the state into an escalating culture-war battle over the way schools teach about race and racism.

The New Jersey governor’s announcement followed a decision by the Florida education department to ban the course in that state’s high schools after pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis. The department said the course “significantly lacks educational value” and was not “historically accurate,” although its creator said the state has not identified any specific inaccuracies in the curriculum.

New Jersey’s expansion of the Advanced Placement course in African American studies, a college-level class, had already been in the works, Mr. Murphy’s office said, but at a news conference this week announcing it, the governor took direct aim at Florida’s decision to ban the class.

“Enough already of all this nonsense coming out of Florida, we want to expand the story and tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when it hurts,” Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, told reporters on Tuesday. He made the comments at Science Park High School in Newark, one of the schools that will offer the course.

“I’m happy to call them out by name,” he added. “This begins with Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida. And it’s unacceptable and frankly, shameful. We’re not the political ones here. We’re Americans standing up. We’ve got to tell the whole story of our country.”

The Dispute Over the A.P. African American Studies Course

  • A Stripped-Down Curriculum: After criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board revised its A.P. course in African American Studies, stripping many concepts that had angered conservatives.
  • Inside the Changes: Reparations, Black Lives Matter and queer studies are just a few of the topics included in a pilot of the course, but which do not appear in the final version. Here are some of the changes.
  • Discussions with Florida Officials: While the College Board was developing the course’s curriculum, the group was in repeated contact with the DeSantis administration.
  • A Rocky Path: The College Board spent years building this course. Now, the nonprofit has infuriated many African American studies scholars and its once-heralded course is mired in dissension.

Both Mr. Murphy and Mr. DeSantis are interested in the national stage and have been trying to burnish their credentials.

A.P. courses allow high school students to obtain credit and advanced placement in college. The African American Studies course has come under fire in Florida because a pilot version covered political topics such as Black Lives Matter and reparations, which have since been taken out of the course. Some academics and educators criticized the College Board, which administers the A.P. exams, for removing these topics, which they said are essential to the discipline of African American studies.

The College Board has said it did not change the course in response to political pressure, although the nonprofit group had frequent communications with Florida officials during its development.

A pilot version of the course is being taught in about 60 schools around the country this school year, and 650 schools will offer the course in the 2023-24 school year, according to the College Board.

Currently in New Jersey, just one high school, Union County Vocational-Technical, is offering the pilot multidisciplinary course, which addresses not just history but civil rights, politics, literature, the arts and geography. The names of the other schools where the course will be offered have not been made public because the state is concerned about media attention, a spokeswoman for the governor said.

But six of them are in Newark. Standing next to Mr. Murphy, Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark, said: “What they have done is politicized it in such a way that people are afraid to say that we should study African American history, that we should allow the L.G.B.T. community to have rights, that there are more cultures in this country that make America what it is.”

Ras Baraka’s father, Amiri Baraka, a famous poet, was mentioned in an earlier draft of the course, but later removed. “The stuff that was taken out is outrageous and that is political. We’re not the political ones here,” Mr. Baraka said.

Mr. DeSantis, who is widely considered a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has repeatedly taken on polarizing culture war issues, including how schools address race, gender and sexuality. His stances have been popular among many parents and helped him win re-election last year by a wide margin. He pledged when he was sworn in to a second term this month that he would continue seeking to make Florida “the land of liberty and the land of sanity.”

Last year, he signed legislation that restricted the way that racism and other aspects of history can be taught in schools and workplaces. The law’s sponsors called it the Stop WOKE Act. Among other things, it prohibits instruction that could make students feel responsibility for or guilt about the past actions of other members of their race.

Mr. Murphy is traveling to Munich on Wednesday to attend a prominent international security conference — which many political observers take it as a sign of his bigger ambitions. He has signed legislation requiring schools to teach Asian American history from kindergarten through high school.

He has also used Mr. DeSantis as something of a political foil: In his state of the state speech last month, Mr. Murphy took a swipe at Mr. DeSantis, although he did not identify him by his name.

“Some governors boast that their state is where ‘woke goes to die.’ I’m not sure I know what that’s supposed to mean,” he said in the speech.

Dana Goldstein contributed reporting.

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