By Akil Bello/Word in Black

In what could be a scene from a Jordan Peele movie, the past week has seen two white men debating how and why to teach the history of Black people in America. The latest attack on the study of African American history was brought on by the College Board’s latest narcissistic attempt to control American education.

Rather than celebrating the forthcoming launch of a historic Advanced Placement (AP) course exploring the Black experience in America, prominent Black studies scholars spent much of the first week of February defending the College Board from claims that they have erased Black history to appease the ego of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

In the summer of 2021, the College Board’s Trevor Packer, head of the AP Program, promised to “introduce a new generation of students to the amazingly rich cultural, artistic, and political contributions of African Americans.”

He said that the College Board supports Black Lives Matter “unequivocally,” and George Floyd’s murder reinvigorated the Board’s drive to launch AP African American Studies (APAAS), which had languished for years.

The announcement of the one-of-a-kind AP that finally included the Black experience had set the expectation that the College Board would have learned from its AP World History experience and been prepared to nurture and protect the new course to ensure its seamless rollout.

Unfortunately, the College Board hadn’t learned from the past. And, once again, the collateral damage of the College Board’s decisions will primarily fall on Black students, Black scholars, and other Black Americans.

As the early pilot classes began, right-wing media politicians have become increasingly vocal in their objections to elements of the program, culminating with DeSantis declaring that AP African American Studies “lacks educational value.”

There have been a litany of events that should make all Americans seriously question whether the College Board is a responsible and trustworthy steward. (pullquote)

One might have expected the organization to stand up with a full-throated denunciation of the racist rhetoric that not only attacked the scholars who worked on the course but attacked the idea that there is a uniquely Black experience that should be studied. One might have expected an educational organization to defend the educational value of African American studies.

But the College Board isn’t an educational organization. The College Board isn’t an agent of change. The College Board is a test publisher interested in one thing: selling.

RELATED: Despite ‘AP for All,’ the Program Still Isn’t Reaching Black Students

The $1 billion nonprofit’s actions consistently demonstrate a greater interest in selling its products at all costs, and often on the backs of the most marginalized Americans. Even before the Florida controversy, there have been a litany of events that should make all Americans seriously question whether the College Board is a responsible and trustworthy steward, whether it puts the public good first, and whether it’s working in the interest of the children whose future and data is in its hands.

In recent decades, the ubiquity of the College Board’s products and services has made it almost impossible for a student to get through high school and into college without passing through a gate erected and maintained by the organization. Whether the SpringBoard curriculum, Advanced Placement (AP) program, PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, CSS Profile, Student Search, BigFuture, CLEP, or Accuplacer, the College Board will profit off of its engagement with almost every American student.

The organization consistently fails to serve or protect the public good. (pullquote)

Less visible than its assessment products, the company casts its shadow over curricular choices and education policies through direct lobbying and contract demands. In many ways, this non-transparent, unelected, unregulated, publicly funded organization exerts more direct influence than many departments of education and amounts to a de facto national curriculum. Wielding such power would seemingly come with some sense of the great responsibility associated with it, yet the organization consistently fails to serve or protect the public good.

Increasingly, as the College Board expands its products, impact, and ability to control the gateways to higher education, it does so at the expense of low-income, Latinx, and Black students. In 2020 when Covid-19 closed schools, leaders of the International Baccalaureate program, the closest competitor of the AP program, decided to suspend all testing worldwide.

Meanwhile, the College Board decided to move forward with their AP exams, telling students who didn’t have internet at home to take the tests in McDonald’s parking lots. The online AP tests were such a debacle that it led to a $500 million lawsuit.

Perhaps expecting more than talking points about equity from an organization led by David Coleman, the man who led the Common Core rollout catastrophe, is asking too much. As the president of the College Board, Coleman has amassed an impressive set of logistical and public relations disasters, from exploiting the Stoneman Douglass shooting to promote AP courses, to refusing to fire a half-a-million-dollar-a-year employee who was also a state representative who voted for legislation restricting discussion of race, sexuality, and ethnicity in Indiana schools, to changing the curriculum of AP U.S. History to appease conservatives.

Even Coleman’s too-late attempt in the press to reclaim the narrative from DeSantis has been more marketing spin to protect his product than a rebuttal of the underlying claims of the lack of value of examining the roles of race, sexuality, and gender in shaping the black experience.

The College Board, in their failure of leadership, has once again allowed conservatives to create a debate about how and why to study the history of Black people. Despite having years to plan, the College Board decided that the best time to launch this course would be in the Trump/DeSantis/Abbot era and to launch it without a clear media strategy to protect the work of the Black scholars and the introduction of a critically important course.

How do you trust an organization that at every turn lets seemingly positive initiatives to foster equity spiral into public relations nightmares? How do you continue to let public dollars be paid to an organization that makes its strongest public statements at the wrong time and only to benefit itself?

RELATED: Psst, College Board: We See You Not Defending AP African American Studies

The introduction of APAAS, which should have been a celebration for the College Board and the country, has been handled in a hamfisted amateurish manner that allowed DeSantis to insert himself into the development process and corrupt any chance of a smooth adoption of this course.

Whether the $2 million a year President of the College Board is being honest about the timeline and influences on the latest revisions to the APAAS curriculum or not, he’s fully responsible for allowing the course and the study of Black history to become a political football on the national stage.

What’s worse is that even if this situation unfolded as Coleman and the College Board want us to believe, this unforced error seems all too familiar and highlights the need to end the faith in the College Board, belief in its claims of interest in equity and access, acceptance of its meddling into curriculum and policy, or at very least the tenure of its CEO.