High school students around the country could now stand to lose even more as a result of the recent widespread efforts to ban and challenge books. Earlier this month, College Board, the nonprofit that administers testing and college readiness programs such as the SAT, Advanced Placement (AP) Program, and PSAT, released a new set of guiding principles. Titled What AP Stands For, the statement directly opposes censorship and clarifies that schools who remove essential topics or readings from AP classes could lose their official designation.
Opposition to Censorship
AP’s statement contains seven guiding principles with the goal of ensuring “that teachers’ expertise is respected, required course content is understood, and that students are academically challenged and free to make up their own minds.” The third principle is especially relevant to recent attempts to remove books from school curricula: “AP opposes censorship.” The statement reads,
“AP is animated by a deep respect for the intellectual freedom of teachers and students alike. If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities. For example, the concepts of evolution are at the heart of college biology, and a course that neglects such concepts does not pass muster as AP Biology.”
What This Means for Students
Students who take AP classes and receive a satisfactory score on the Advanced Placement exams at the end of the school year are eligible to receive college credit for their work. In many cases, this can allow students to bypass introductory required courses and instead focus on taking more electives or even graduate early. High schools that offer a wide variety of AP courses are often seen as a higher quality than their counterparts, and individual students’ enrollment in these rigorous classes can help make them more attractive to college admissions counselors.
AP courses follow a common framework established by the College Board with input from professors and college syllabi across the country. Schools are audited each year to make sure they are adhering to this framework. Although it is rare, the College Board has the right to strip a school of its AP designation if the audit finds that the framework is not being followed. If this happens, the students then lose the benefits that come with enrolling in these high-level courses.
Do AP Classes Teach Banned Books?
AP’s framework for its English courses, AP English Language and Composition and AP English Literature and Composition, does not mandate that schools teach specific books; however, it provides a list of concepts and skills that students must be familiar with for their exams. Another AP principle highlighted in the recent College Board statement promotes “an open-minded approach to the histories and cultures of different peoples” – a statement that opposes the recent bans in many states on how schools are able to teach students about race and history.
Recently challenged titles taught in AP classes include Beloved and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, the New York Times’ 1619 Project, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, and many more. Most commonly, books are challenged for perceived sexual content and/or discussions of race.
It is worth noting that the overwhelming majority of these challenges stem from parents and politicians, not the students themselves. If enough titles are removed from a school’s curriculum that it ceases to adhere to the AP framework, the students will ultimately suffer through no fault of their own.
Gretchen Kaser Corsillo (she/her) is the Director of Rutherford (NJ) Public Library and has worked in public libraries in a variety of capacities since 2003. In 2013, she received her Master’s of Library & Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She also holds a B.A. in Literature with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Political Science from Ramapo College. Prior to working as a professional librarian, Gretchen worked in the marketing and legal fields; the latter, combined with her interest in writing, has made her a strong advocate for intellectual freedom.