In the summer of 2014, the College Board issued new guidelines for teachers of Advanced Placement US History, the first update since 2006. The 2014 framework, intended to help teachers prepare students for a new AP exam, signaled a big shift away from important names and events toward interpretation and comprehension.
For many teachers, it was a welcome break from the slog of having to force their students to memorize endless numbers of facts, and instead being able to foster the much more important skills of analysis and argument.
However, the reaction amongst conservatives was immediate and harsh. The standards were criticized as being “anti-American.” Specific objections ranged from the framework stating that the nation’s founders believed in “white superiority” and that white Southerners had “pride in the institution of slavery” to a line calling former President Ronald Reagan “bellicose.”
The Republican National Committee even got involved and passed a resolution that called the framework “radically revisionist,” while several states introduced proposals hoping to force a revision.
Bizarrely, at one point, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson went so far as to argue that the Advanced Placement course might encourage young Americans to “sign up for ISIS”!
To many people’s surprise, the College Board listened to the arguments, decided to do another revision, and even hired some of the loudest critics to work on those changes. The College Board has just released the new curriculum framework for its AP US history course, and it appears to have satisfied many of the old framework’s critics.
In doing so, the Board has either glossed over or completely ignored many important issues such as racism and slavery.
This is especially important because it affects a large number of young people. America doesn’t have a national history curriculum, but the AP US history course comes close. Last year, nearly half a million high school students sat for this AP exam.
Here are just a few of the changes:
In the 2014 version, Europeans “helped increase the intensity and destructiveness of American Indian warfare.” Now it says simply that the Europeans’ introduction of guns and alcohol “stimulated changes” in native communities.
In the 2014 section on World War II, students were given specific details about Japanese internment camps and the atomic bomb. In the new version, students are told simply that Americans saw the war as a fight for freedom and against fascism.
President Reagan is no longer “bellicose” toward the Soviet Union but rather gives “speeches” and engages in “a buildup of nuclear and conventional weapons.”
The 2014 version stated: “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales.” By 2015, we read that interracial interaction in the colonial and antebellum years spurred “evolving religious, cultural, and racial justifications for [their] subjugation.”
You get the idea.
These changes are part of a dangerous trend in education to gloss over or ignore any problems in US history. Thus, Arizona banned ethnic studies classes as “leading to communism,” the Texas textbook standards largely ignore anyone of color in the history of the state, the Tennessee Tea Party tried to ban all mention of slavery in their textbooks, and now we have these new AP standards.
There’s also another problem: the revised 2014 standards were very similar to the Common Core standards, in encouraging students to think for themselves, and develop their own arguments based on evidence. Conservatives don’t like the idea of students thinking for themselves, so they rose up against these standards.
At a time when the US still has a “gaping racial wound,” to quote Jon Stewart, our public education system should be taking a stand for the truth, not trying to minimize any issues they find unpleasant.
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