AP Psychology teachers concerned about recent ban

Shrija Shandilya | The Chronicle

On August 3, 2023, the state of Florida announced that they will be effectively banning the teaching of Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology.

The state’s department of education informed school leaders that the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under state law. Both of these topics are part of the AP Psychology curriculum, and the College Board, which runs the AP program, said in June that they could not modify the course in response to Florida’s regulations.

While the state later clarified that the course can be taught in its entirety in a manner that is “age and developmentally appropriate,” many Florida school districts had already decided not to offer the course this year.

Mason High School (MHS) AP Psychology teacher Paul Reedy recalls feeling shocked by the state’s decision to ban the course, considering its longstanding reputation. 

“This course has been offered for over 30 years by College Board,” Reedy said. “It hasn’t really changed in terms of the content, so why is this happening now when it’s been around for so long?”

Reedy has been teaching AP Psychology for nearly 20 years. He said he initially chose to teach the course because of its value and practicality to students. 

“I love teaching it because the content is so relevant to students’ lives,” Reedy said. “It’s easy for students to make connections with what they’re experiencing in life and the curriculum includes that.” 

He said it is important for students to learn about topics that the state of Florida has labeled controversial, like gender identity and sexual orientation, in order to promote inclusivity and create a healthy classroom environment.

“It’s certainly going to help with inclusivity if you have discussions about topics that some adults feel are controversial,” Reedy said.

He said the idea that certain topics can be essentially made illegal to discuss in the classroom is an idea that scares him. 

“It frightens me that a course that has been taught throughout the country would be made inaccessible because some small people believe that a small percentage of the curriculum is not suitable,” Reedy said.

MHS senior and Hope Squad member Rhea Umrani said she enjoyed taking AP Psychology because of its importance outside of school. She said the ideas taught in the course helped her better understand her interactions with people around her.

“I learned a lot of things about the real world,” Umrani said. “It helped me understand myself and my parents because we’re all going through different [psychological] stages. I would not have been able to see that before.” 

Umrani said that AP Psychology connected with her life as a student and high schooler by giving her insight on the mental health struggles and growth that she and people her age go through. It specifically helped her in her job as a Hope Squad member.

“It’s a big part of suicide prevention because it focuses on implementing a good system for kids,” Umrani said. “It taught me the technical part of what me and other kids are going through.”

Part of the AP Psychology curriculum is learning about the methods that famous psychologists use to inquire about their surroundings. Umrani said this is an essential skill that AP Psychology teaches and taking it away would rob students of that.

“Psychology teaches you to question the world around you,” Umrani said. “It’s so important in this day and age and it’s like they’re taking away a fundamental skill.”

Umrani said Florida’s ban on teaching AP Psychology is unfair and students are missing out on the opportunity to make their own choice and learn more about themselves.

“They would lose an outlet to learn about cognitive and mental health,” Umrani said. “I don’t think any course should be banned.”

AP Psychology teacher Molley Coffey also agrees that the course is an important and useful one to take. She said she recalled feeling sad to hear many students would be unable to take it now. 

“We need a class like this because we do talk about a diverse set of topics and it’s not something most kids see in their day,” Coffey said. “It’s a disservice to all students in Florida who don’t have this opportunity anymore.” 

Coffey is in a Facebook group of AP Psychology teachers and also said that they are upset over this sudden decision to ban a course based on content that is in only one of over eighty modules of the course.

“There were teachers on there who have been teaching this for decades and all of a sudden, they’re told they are no longer teaching it,” Coffey said.

Coffey said she enjoys teaching AP Psychology because of the personal aspect of its content. She said some of this real world application is the content about gender identity and sexual orientation. 

“It’s really cool that you can take everything we talked about and make it personal to analyze your own behaviors,” Coffey said. “I think it can really be eye opening for people who may be experiencing [those] questions. By teaching it we are showing that we are open to anybody, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

Inclusive Excellence member and former AP Psychology student, senior Kavya Kudalkar, said that the course’s content helps clear up misconceptions students may have about gender identity and sexual orientation since it is not something that is commonly taught.

“It’s a really good educational tool,” said Kudalkar. “If there were students who were not educated about [these issues], it’s a good way to understand better.”

She said that not only does AP Psychology teach important content, it also helps to destigmatize discussions about gender and sexuality.

“It’s one of the most popular AP classes and part of it helps destigmatize the LGBTQ community and help students realize that it’s a normal thing,” said Kudalkar.

Kudalkar said that Florida’s reasoning for banning AP Psychology contributes to further marginalizing the LGBTQ community.

“Banning AP Psychology for the reason they did marginalizes the LGBTQ community and outright shames them,” said Kudalkar. “Not only do they already face discrimination but now their state is targeting them.”

She also said that this damages the education of all students in Florida and stunts their real world knowledge.

“Students in Florida are being censored from real world issues,” said Kudalkar. “They will get to college and find that their normal is not everyone else’s normal and they’ll have a huge wake up call.”

Reedy said that Mason’s ability to continue to teach courses like AP Psychology contribute to the cultural goals of the district as a whole.

“One of our core pillars is Inclusive Excellence and that’s one of the reasons I love to teach here,” said Reedy. “At Mason, no matter what your sexual orientation, no matter what gender you identify as, we value you as a person, as a student, and we welcome you to the classroom.”