Battle for the Classroom

By Megan Gramlich Source: NY Magazine

Last week, Oklahoma lawmakers voted to effectively ban AP U.S. History. After facing backlash from the public, Rep. Dan Fisher (R), withdrew the bill and said he planned to submit a new one that would require state review of the APUSH curriculum. Supporters of the original bill argued that the course, which was developed by the non-profit organization College Board, selectively teaches students “what is bad about America” while omitting positive historical events and the concept of “American exceptionalism.”

Politicians in other states have also criticized the APUSH curriculum. A resolution introduced by the Georgia state Senate condemned the program for supposedly radically revising our nation’s history as well as minimizing “discussion of America’s Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, [and] the religious influences on our nation’s history.” Students and teachers of Colorado’s Jefferson County mounted walkouts to protest a school-board member’s proposal to make the APUSH classes more patriotic.

The criticisms of the content of the new APUSH framework were outlined in a resolution adopted by the Republican National Committee last year. The resolution denounces the “required knowledge” tested on the AP exam and argues that the course infringes upon state rights to dictate high school curriculum. However, the requirements for AP U.S. history leave sufficient discretionary room for individual teachers to decide how they want to present historical events and concepts. It’s reasonable for the College Board to want to outline all the topics that could be tested on the yearly exam and to expect teachers to cover most of them with their students. In doing so, teachers can still mold their courses in order to form curriculum that accords with state standards. So long as both College Board and state standards are based on fact, there is no discord.

However, critics of the course argue that the College Board chooses the wrong facts to focus on. Ironically, such critics try to correct for an apparent distortion of American history while supporting intentionally positive portrayals of our nations past. Even if the APUSH curriculum did contain selective biases for negative events, the proper solution wouldn’t be an emphasis on “American exceptionalism,” a fallacious perception that selectively ignores the negative aspects of our nation’s foundations and consequent development.

      AP classes in general provide students throughout the nation with challenging curriculum that stimulates critical thinking, intellectual development, and college preparedness. In particular, APUSH provides students with an extensive treatment of historical events and analyses of significant facts. When taught by a competent instructor, the course enlightens students about both the positive and negative aspects of our history. We can certainly be thankful that the bill of rights guaranteed us important freedoms such as speech and religion. However, there is nothing inherently unpatriotic about looking at history through a critical lens. In fact, true patriots examine historical wrongs, such as systematic denials of civil rights, in order to determine what is necessary to establish foundations for a greater future nation. So, for the sake of patriotism, let’s continue to offer challenges coursed based on fact—both the good and the bad.