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Harvard Faculty Criticize Restrictions on AP Psychology Under Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

Harvard faculty objected to new Florida curricular restrictions that could block the teaching of the College Board's Advanced Placement course in Psychology.
Harvard faculty objected to new Florida curricular restrictions that could block the teaching of the College Board's Advanced Placement course in Psychology. By Addison Y. Liu
By Azusa M. Lippit, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard faculty expressed concern over perceived curricular censorship in Florida following restrictions on the College Board’s Advanced Placement course in Psychology due to the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Florida House Bill 1069 is a revision of House Bill 1557, the “Parental Rights in Education” — commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Under the bill, instructors are prohibited from discussing topics of gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom.

House Bill 1069, approved by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in May, expanded the restriction of content on gender and sexuality to pre-K through eighth grade. It had previously applied only to kindergarten through third grade. The bill also requires that high school instruction of such content be “developmentally appropriate.”

Following the amendment’s approval, the Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board asking the nonprofit to review its offerings and determine “whether these courses need modification to ensure compliance” with Florida law.

The College Board’s AP Psychology course includes a section on gender and sexual orientation, in potential violation of Florida’s bill. According to an Aug. 3 statement from the College Board, “any AP Psychology course taught in Florida will violate either Florida law or college requirements.”

But on Aug. 4, Florida Commissioner of Education Manny Diaz Jr. sent a letter to Florida superintendents stating that the course can be offered “consistent with Florida law.”

“In fact, the Department believes that AP Psychology can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is age and developmentally appropriate,” the letter continued.

Still, Harvard faculty expressed concern over the course’s state of jeopardy and broader curricular restrictions in Florida.

Huan-Tang Lu, a Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer who specializes in youth mental health and counseling, said curriculum censorship like Florida’s will “definitely create a lot of doubt in students.”

“They’re still exploring their identities at that age,” Lu said. “I don’t even know if they feel empowered enough to advocate to stop these kind of changes.”

“They will probably observe how teachers, how staff, how administrators react to this ban,” Lu added. “The way they see this world will change.”

HGSE senior lecturer Frank D. Barnes said he believes the consequences of Florida’s curriculum interventions will extend beyond the classroom to students’ broader understanding of society and identity.

“What the reaction is, is not just what’s in the curriculum, but who is part of the human experience, what is the value of their narrative, do we allow multiple perspectives of the same national experience to exist — and coexist, and recognize that two things can be true at the same time,” Barnes said.

“Any time that we tell people in a systemic, institutional way that we don’t see you and won’t see you, it is not a move forward in human progress,” he added.

Harvard Psychology professor Mahzarin R. Banaji said she believes the restriction of psychology course content is emblematic of a greater attack on science education.

“Dismantling science is as dumb as going after Mickey Mouse is unpatriotic,” Banaji wrote in an emailed statement. “The people of Florida must decide as to whether to continue in this race to the bottom.”

HGSE lecturer Liao Cheng said the curriculum restriction “reflects an underestimation of students’ ability to think for themselves.”

Cheng called the restrictions “unfortunate,” adding that “the study of psychology presents a very helpful perspective for students who understand the inner workings of the mind, both to understand how others perceive and react to the world, and also how they themselves perceive and respond to the world.”

Florida’s curricular restrictions have also extended to the teaching of critical race theory, including a ban of the College Board’s AP African American Studies course in the state in January. The next month, the College Board modified the course requirements around critical race theory, though the board at the time denied that the changes were related to Florida’s ban.

For AP Psychology, however, the College Board said in a June statement that it would not modify its curriculum.

“We have learned from our mistakes in the recent rollout of AP African American Studies and know that we must be clear from the outset where we stand,” the statement reads. “As with all AP courses, required topics must be included for a course to be designated as AP.”

Despite curricular uncertainty in Florida, Cheng said she remains hopeful for the future of K-12 education, citing a positive atmosphere in her own classes.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that many students that I have talked to are still passionate about going into teaching, despite the less than ideal atmosphere in the broader society,” Cheng said. “They really want to bring a positive impact on young people.”

Correction: September 18, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly misattributed quotes (“What the reaction is...” and “Any time that we tell people in a systemic...”) to Shawn A. Ginwright. In fact, these statements were made by senior lecturer Frank D. Barnes.

Correction: September 19, 2023

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly paraphrased Harvard Psychology professor Mahzarin R. Banaji to reference “going after Mickey Mouse [as] unpatriotic.” In fact, Banaji said “going after Mickey Mouse is unpatriotic.”

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at azusa.lippit@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @azusalippit.

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