Push back on APUSH

The new Advanced Placement U.S. History framework, known as APUSH, doesn’t give students the tools to analyze history, writes Robert L. Paquette, a history professor.

The broad appeal of Howard Zinn’s Marxist baby-talk in AP history classes stems not only from the appeal of  the politics of the his best-selling People’s History of the United States to activist teachers, but its service in easing bored and indifferent students through the past by personalizing and simplifying it through trivialization.  The current emphasis on “identities” often boils down in the classroom to the instructor’s attempt to get the students to empathize with the personal feelings of a favored group of historical actors extracted from the ranks of the oppressed.  While these voices may elicit students’ sympathy, perhaps even guilt, they do little to enhance understanding of the proper yardsticks by which the past must be measured so that it does not become vulgarized.

APUSH treatment of race, class, and gender reflects “presentism,” Paquette writes.

Forms of prejudice like ethnocentrism, which can be seen as universal phenomenon, appear to be a debility that largely afflicted persons of European descent. On one page of a unit dealing with European expansion, for example, the authors assert that Spanish and Portuguese explorers had “little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves.”  Compared to whom?  Kongos?  Aztecs?  Catawbas?

For many high achievers, AP U.S. history will be their last American history course, writes Paquette.

Twisted history

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History is supposed to be the “anti-textbook,” a “corrective to the narrative of progress dispensed by the state,” writes Sam Wineburg in Undue Certainty in American Educator.  But Zinn’s widely popular book only includes evidence that props up his agenda while ignoring the rest, charges Wineburg, a professor of education and history at Stanford.  The book “contains unsubstantiated claims, uses anecdotes as evidence and presents complicated questions in simplistic yes-or-no terms.”