Little Rock Nine criticize Arkansas’s AP African American Studies course restrictions

Some surviving members of the Little Rock Nine are pushing back against the Arkansas Department of Education’s decision to drop the Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course from its schools. 

Earlier this week, the department said the course would not count for credit toward high school graduation, claiming it is still in a pilot stage and cannot be accepted until revisions are finalized. 

“The AP African American Studies pilot course is not a history course and is a pilot that is still undergoing major revisions,” officials said in a statement to Education Week. “Arkansas law contains provisions regarding prohibited topics.”

“Without clarity, we cannot approve a pilot that may unintentionally put a teacher at risk of violating Arkansas law,” they added.

Two members of the Little Rock Nine — the group of nine African American students who desegregated Little Rock Central High School in 1957 — pushed back against the Arkansas Education Department’s decision.

“I think the attempts to erase history is working for the Republican Party,” said Elizabeth Eckford, a member of the Little Rock Nine in an interview with NBC News. “They have some boogeymen that are really popular with their supporters. 

Terrance Roberts, now 81, told NBC News he was not surprised to hear about the course restrictions and called the bans of critical race theory — an academic framework that looks at how systematic racism has impacted American laws and constitutions — “ridiculous.” He said he knows some do not want to confront the history, but stressed the need for students to know the truth.

At a “bare minimum,” he said, there shouldn’t be “laws restricting their ability to learn, or what they could learn.”

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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) ordered a review of the curriculum at the beginning of this year after the state banned critical race theory. Included in the governor’s order was a review of AP African American studies, which was taught in two school districts in the state last year, including Central High School. 

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The Little Rock School District said it will continue offering the course, which NBC News reported Roberts welcomed, while recognizing the challenges ahead.

“I know there are voices pushing back,” he told NBC News. “The question is, will they be successful?”

In an interview on Fox News Thursday, Sanders said she wants to focus on the “basics of teaching math, of teaching reading, writing and American history,” and said the state cannot “push this propaganda leftist agenda.” 

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