Oklahoma’s AP U.S. History proposal ludicrous

March 4, 2015 — by Apoorv Kwatra and Fiona Sequeira

On Feb. 16, a legislative committee in Oklahoma approved a bill that bans the teaching of Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) in the state.

Sick of APUSH? Move to Oklahoma.

On Feb. 16, a legislative committee in Oklahoma approved a bill that bans the teaching of Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) in the state.

The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Dan Fisher, asserted that the new APUSH framework emphasizes “what is bad about America,” and does not stress American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States is somehow different and therefore better than other nations.

Fisher hopes to replace the AP curriculum with a state-manufactured alternative at an estimated cost of $3.8 million. The replacement framework would cover America’s founding principles of constitutional government instead of “marginalized people.” Speeches by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush would be an integral part of the proposed course. Does anybody else sense a political slant here?

As ludicrous as the bill is, Oklahoma is not alone. Legislatures in Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina and Colorado, spurred on by the Republican National Committee (RNC), say that the curriculum focuses too heavily on U.S. “blemishes.”

Fortunately, Fisher retracted the original bill and proposed a thorough review of the current course instead. However, the fact that Fisher and other states are even considering this action is troubling.

Fisher’s claims are false. AP and Common Core standards allow teachers and schools discretion in what and how they teach, outlining broad critical-thinking goals rather than a concrete syllabus, textbook or specific lesson plans. If an APUSH teacher wants to highlight the heroism of our Founding Fathers, he or she can by all means do so.

Additionally, Fisher’s outrageous allegations of revisionist history are not grounded in sound evidence. According to College Board President David Coleman, the Founding Fathers and their ideas are present throughout the APUSH exam. Every question of the test requires students to demonstrate an understanding of America’s important historical documents and leaders.

Furthermore, it is entirely possible to teach American history in its entirety — the good and the bad — without fear of students abandoning their patriotism. America is indeed a nation of lofty ideals, ideals we have failed to meet as a result of their height and our own humanity. These failures have led to numerous shameful events, but instead of denying their existence, we can use them as learning experiences for the future.

Of course, history is written by the winners, and for most of American history, the winners have been heterosexual white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males. Women and minority groups have undoubtedly been oppressed, but in studying all of the country’s groups, we are celebrating what makes our country special: the ongoing struggle for achieving equality, freedom and democracy for all.

To glorify America’s past with no reference to the negative is a lie. If we force a sugar-coated version of American history down pupils’ throats, manipulating the historical narrative to serve a political agenda, then what makes our educational system different than that of a totalitarian regime?

If we institute the curriculum Fisher suggests, we would be no better than the Japanese in their history textbooks, enshrouding their unethical World War II activities in smoke and mirrors. If we perpetuate the myth that the U.S. is unblemished in world politics, then we are perpetuating the discrimination, racism and intolerance that have plagued our nation.

Students deserve the opportunity to learn the raw facts and then make interpretations for themselves. American history is anything but crisp and clean. The Three-Fifths Compromise, slavery, Jim Crow laws, genocide of Native Americans, lack of women’s suffrage until 1920, operation Ajax and the Banana Wars are just some of the immoral pieces of our history.

The reality of those facts is frankly embarrassing, but instead of erasing the truth, we should use it as inspiration to ensure that similar events will never occur again. We must be willing to teach both our failures and our successes to paint a comprehensive picture of American history — a history not so much written by the chest-thumping winners but instead guided by a solemn commitment to the truth.

Even our own APUSH program at SHS is taught in a way that refers to the U.S. as “us” and other countries as “them,” thus demonizing them. Despite Fisher’s claims, learning about the “marginalized peoples” and “bad” events has not made APUSH students anti-American. On the contrary, it has helped them hone a stronger sense of the ideals behind this nation and develop a firmer conviction that they support America’s ideals. Despite or even because of the U.S.’s failures past and present, students feel compelled to play a role in bringing American ideals to fruition in the future.  

Filtering our history in favor of preaching “exceptionalism” in the classroom is not only ignorant, it’s dangerous. Instead of rewriting history, we should promote a comprehensive understanding of our past to write a better future.

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