Critics: New AP U.S. history has no heroes

Washington Crossing the Delaware as painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

College Board’s new framework for Advanced Placement U.S. History “inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country,” charge conservatives.

Instead of striving to build a “City upon a Hill,” as generations of students have been taught, the colonists are portrayed as bigots who developed “a rigid racial hierarchy” that was in turn derived from “a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority.” The Framework . . . omits the colonists’ growing commitment to religious freedom and the emergence of a pluralistic society that lacked an entrenched aristocracy.

. . .  the Framework makes no mention of the sacrifices America’s Greatest Generation made to rescue much of the world from a long night of Nazi and Japanese tyranny. Instead, the Framework focuses solely on the negative aspects of America’s involvement in the war:  “the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”

Heroes such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Dwight Eisenhower, Jackie Robinson, Jonas Salk, Neil Armstrong, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are not mentioned in the document, charge critics. But it has “space for Chief Little Turtle, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers.”

In response to the criticism, the College Board released a practice exam — to everyone, not just certified AP teachers — and promised to “clarify” the framework.

“Our founders are resonant throughout” the exam, wrote College Board President David Coleman wrote. “Just like the previous framework, the new framework does not remove individuals or events that have been taught by AP teachers in prior years. Instead, it is just a framework, requiring teachers to populate it with content required by their local standards and priorities.”

The practice exam is here.

The First Vote by A.R. Waud

The First Vote by A.R. Waud

Questions ask students to interpret quotes by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Other questions deal with immigration, women’s rights and urban poverty.

One question asks students to analyze an image:

a) Briefly explain the point of view expressed through the image about ONE of the following.
• Emancipation
• Citizenship
• Political participation

b) Briefly explain ONE outcome of the Civil War that led to the historical change depicted in the image.

c) Briefly explain ONE way in which the historical change you explained in part b was challenged in the period between 1866 and 1896.

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  1. What do you expect when textbooks and curricula are written not to educate, but to propagandize? This has been going on for a while in subjects such as history and English, but it’s creeping over to the hard sciences as well, with social justice math and climate change pushed as proven fact.

    Little wonder they hate homeschoolers. We refuse to let our kids be propagandized by their extreme ideology and become little automatons, well-versed in groupthink because their education consists of being told what to think rather than how to think.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    One might think that one must know what American values are prior to being able to “question” them.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Also, the idea that a standardized test is asking about the “point of view” of an *image* strikes me as a little silly. (Although it’s only 1/3 of the question.)

    I could write several different well-supported essays about that image with tremendously different points of view.

    I could make it out to be a piece of racist propaganda, or a tribute to social change, or subject it to any of a number of other entirely credible (albeit likely mistaken) interpretations.

    Which is fine, on an English test. But that’s not what this is.

  4. Speaking of propaganda, here is an example from the framework:

    “The liberalism of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal drew on earlier
    progressive ideas and represented a multifaceted approach to both the causes
    and effects of the Great Depression, using government power to provide
    relief to the poor, stimulate recovery, and reform the American economy.”

    • Hmmm, that completely leaves out the part about “extended the Great Depression by approximately seven years”, which is what a group of Stanford economists determined from a lengthy analysis of New Deal programs.

  5. One of the problems that we have, in a country where people are (ostensibly!) still allowed to think for themselves, is how to reconcile the desire for a standardized, uniform system with a natural diversity of opinion.

    There was never a time when all teachers and parents were in perfect agreement about curriculum and “American Values”. There was never a Golden Age with an ideal Little Red Schoolhouse that was beloved and respected by all; most of our modern battles over the system are retreads of debates that occured in our grandparents’ time. Many southerners have always bristled at the suggestion that Abe Lincoln, General Sherman, and Thaddeus Stevens were heros. Conservatives and liberals always have their differences. Plus, we’ll always have our oddball political nuts, conspiracy theorists, and outright contrarians who just love to disagree with everything. (Don’t tell them that President Ike was a hero; he had George Patton killed because “he knew too much,” didn’t you know?)

    Like many other readers, I detest the multiculturalist and social justice views of history, but with our current system, it’s hard to see how some form of propaganda is unavoidable. It’s just a question of whose propaganda gets priority. The system we’re stuck with just doesn’t allow alternatives (though this may be true only if you believe that propaganda relies on the form, and not content, of a presentation).

    A good education would grant a certain degree of freedom to teachers and students to think for themselves, but the imposed “standards” prevent all that. The standards are about obedience and conformity to whomever is the official expert of the moment, and those experts have a job that is primarily political. If we were so lucky to get an expert that wanted all the kids (including the stupid ones) to read the Federalist Papers, we’d also find that political expediency would require these documents be analyzed according to Deconstructionist Hermeneutical Post-Colonial Feminist Queer Theory. Any expert who tried to resist such pressures would be torn to pieces, and would be replaced by someone more … pliable.

    The only hope is for parents who think for themselves to pass on that power to their children, however they can, and pray for the best. Your kid will never get a classical liberal education in a public school, so you should give up on that. We’ll never agree on those Standards either, so I guess these debates can continue in perpetuity. Hooray!

    • Agreed. The two things, though, that are particularly pernicious about this situation is that the propaganda is being presented as fact rather than opinion, and then of course the students are not being trained in logic so they might have the tools to recognize the propaganda for what it is, and counter it accordingly.

      • As a public school US History teacher, (although I never get near AP students, not enough seniority) who is expected to use the Common Core this year. I intend to spend a lot of time trying to get the kids to identify bias.

    • I think one way to tell the completely unvarnished truth and at the same time provide a little help in understanding it, is to present more context from around the world.

      So, yes, slavery was bad and evil and had to be rooted out at great cost, but here’s how slavery was playing out around the rest of the world at the time.

      Yes, it was hard on the native inhabitants of North America to be invaded by European powers, but this is how all great powers had acted through all of history and the US was hardly the most destructive at it – see Carthage, destruction of.

      Things like that. There’s no point in trying to pussyfoot around the truth, but there’s no need to propagandize it either.