Rewriting history


Last week Oklahoma voted to ban Advanced Placement US History courses. (Well, officially it’s a bill that cuts funding for the teaching of the class, but the effect is about the same.)

The decision was based on a recent conservative movement against the course and its structure. Representative Dan Fisher, who introduced the bill, said APUSH emphasizes “what is bad about America” and refuses to highlight “American exceptionalism.”

But Fisher and the Oklahoma legislature aren’t the only ones complaining. The Republican National Committee petitioned Congress to withhold funding from College Board – the organization that dictates the framework for Advanced Placement courses – until the APUSH curriculum was revised to “accurately reflect US history without a political bias.”  The RNC also criticized College Board for using the course to present a “consistently negative view of American history.”

The class has sparked similar debates in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Colorado. The Jefferson County (CO) school board considered changing the APUSH curriculum to “avoid the encouragement of civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law”  – themes that run through the course, particularly with its increased emphasis on events like the civil rights movement. After two weeks of student walkouts and teacher no-shows, the Jefferson County board revoked their plans to change APUSH.

teach us the truth

In Texas, the chair of the State Board of Education, Barbara Cargill, said the APUSH framework has “a lot of emphasis on racial conflict and US expansionism and the excesses of capitalism, as opposed to the benefits of it.”

Here seems like a good place to stop and give my two cents on the issue. We’ll start with you, Ms. Barbara Cargill of the Texas BoE. First, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that even though you listed three things APUSH emphasizes, when you said you also wanted the course to include the “benefits” you were only talking about the last item on your list – because if you’re advocating for the benefits of racial conflicts, I don’t even know where to start with you.

I’ll cut to the chase: I have a problem with any approach to limit educational opportunities. When the anti-APUSH groups say they don’t like the course’s focus on things like racial conflicts or expansionism or any of the “negative” events of American history, to me it feels like they’re trying to cover up important parts of history because they don’t like what happened. I’m sorry if the fact that America isn’t perfect bothers you (I’m looking at you, Mr. “American exceptionalism” Fisher), but you don’t get to skim over the bad parts of our history because of that. For me historical education in America has always been problematic and that’s because we are constantly taught and retaught about the same events in a way that contradicts what we previously learned. (If you don’t know what I mean, think about how your views on Christopher Columbus changed from the time you were in grade school to now.)

history victors

I also take issue with this assertion that APUSH isn’t “patriotic” enough. Since when is the purpose of a history class to enforce patriotism? APUSH isn’t supposed to make us into patriots – it’s supposed to teach us about historical events. Taking a British History class isn’t supposed to turn me into a Loyalist. Why does an American history class deserve different expectations?

All I can say is I really hope that this movement dies out and other states have enough sense to keep teaching APUSH.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s