What do these things have in common: Gloria Steinem, Yiddish theater, Gospel of Wealth, U.S. Fish Commission, the cult of domesticity and smallpox? They are all highlights of American history for Advanced Placement (AP) high school students. AP classes are typically for college-bound students, and considered to be “tougher” classes. The College Board administers AP classes in high schools, and is releasing its American history framework effective this fall.
Here are some things students won’t see: the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln (other than a brief mention of his Emancipation Proclamation), or the “Greatest Generation” of World War II. Instead, students will learn:
“European exploration and conquest were fueled by a desire for new sources of wealth, increased power and status, and converts to Christianity”
“With little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves, Spanish and Portuguese explorers poorly understood the native peoples they encountered in the Americas”
“The resulting [American] independence movement was fueled by established colonial elites”
“The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority”
Teachers are instructed to spend 90 percent of class time on the years 1607-1980, with the other 10 percent to the eras before and after those dates. One can certainly argue there isn’t much U.S. history prior to 1607, but 5 percent for the past 34 years? Larry Krieger, a history teacher and author of several college prep test books, found the new framework severely lacking.
Leaving aside its very leftist bias, it is a very poorly written, unprofessional document,” said Krieger, adding he found it “boring” and “dispiriting.”
Krieger says teachers have been contacting him with their concerns.
At the same time, teachers are “very afraid of repercussions for speaking out.” They fear, Krieger said, negative consequences from either the College Board or their local school system.
One teacher who attended a gathering of some 1,000 AP exam “readers” – those who read and evaluate student AP exam essays – told Krieger 90 percent of teachers there either detested the new framework or viewed it with skepticism.
The framework…emphatically states that the new AP U.S. history exam will be limited to information in the framework.
In boldface and underlined text, the College Board states: “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, no AP U.S. History Exam question will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline.”
The College Board’s Debbie Pennington has said that U.S. history is not about “dead, white men as taught by almost dead, white men.” Pennington says there must be room for “flexibility” and “flavor.”
As a former high school teacher, I know how difficult it can be to get everything you know needs to be taught into a short school year. Of course, a person can spend a lifetime studying U.S. history. However, there is something deeply flawed about a history framework for high schoolers that makes no mention of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Gettysburg Address, Susan B. Anthony, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, 9/11 or the technological advances in the past 35 years. By focusing on themes of the specious nature of Christianity, elitism, racial superiority and power, the College Board is creating a revisionist, skewed view of American history. What would Thomas Jefferson think? If the College Board has its way, that’s a question American high school students won’t get to ponder.