The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

81° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: AP History isn’t about patriotism

    About a week and a half ago, an Oklahoma House committee passed a bill that keeps the state from funding the Advanced Placement U.S. History course until the College Board repeals changes to the exam, made effective in fall 2014.

    The bill has since generated a (fully justified) national outcry.

    After all, let’s forget for just a second the bill requires an equivalent U.S. history curriculum to be written by this fall, on top of new English and math standards that are due for the state by 2016 — both massively impractical deadlines.

    Let’s also forget that the new College Board standards didn’t actually change much.

    “There is now a ‘bare bones’ or topic tree that teachers are required to address,” said Amy Billings, a local AP U.S. History teacher at BASIS Tucson North High School, “but that is really sparse. … This was intentional, so that teachers would still have a significant amount of freedom to teach events and ideas they found important.”

    The real trouble with the bill, then, is the sentiment behind it. Conservatives have denounced the AP U.S. History exam for years, concerned that it’s interfering with students’ belief in American exceptionalism.

    For example, the Republican National Convention released a statement last summer claiming the course now “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while … minimizing positive aspects.”

    In particular, the statement claims that not enough attention is given to the Founding Fathers and their ideals, and that it presents a “biased and inaccurate” view of “motivations and actions of … settlers, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.”

    These sentiments extend to the Oklahoma bill and its major sponsor, Republican Dan Fisher, who was concerned that “the [course framework] emphasizes what is bad about America,” according to Tulsa World.

    Well, we can’t have that.

    First of all, what everyone in this debate seems to be forgetting is that AP students have presumably had years of history classes, most likely America-centric ones at that. Most of them have plenty of familiarity with the standards that conservatives would apparently like emphasized more.

    The purpose of the AP curriculum is to go deeper than that. Presumably, AP classes are preparing students for college-level classes: preparing them to think critically and argue, to analyze bias, and to link details and causes. This was the primary motivation behind the College Board changing the exam curriculum in the first place.

    “[The new standards] remind the educator that this isn’t just a class about facts and timelines,” Billings pointed out. “It is about interactions, changes in technology, global and domestic affairs, and establishing causal relationships between them.”

    It’s also a prime opportunity to introduce students to the subtleties of history. Things aren’t always black and white, as inconvenient as that may be. Conservatives should take a hint: the “revisionist” version of history isn’t the one that minimizes American exceptionalism.

    In fact, the revisionist version is the one that tries to pretend the Founding Fathers were all-knowing gods, the Japanese internment camps of World War II were a minor oversight, and the Trail of Tears was an unfortunate event contemporary — but unrelated to — the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny.

    Moreover, U.S. history doesn’t have to revolve around exclusively white men — unlike Fisher’s bill, which presented the types of standards it would prefer by specifying documents it felt were essential to a proper study of history.

    Of the 58 documents, only eight authors were not white men. The only three women represented happened to be white. The token contribution from a Native American author was a surrender speech.

    If students reach this level of history study, presumably, it would be good to teach them that minority history is just as culturally and socially significant as the decisions of the white, rich slaveowners we know as the Founding Fathers. We should also be teaching them to think critically about their opinions, rather than accept a spoon-fed, watered-down narrative that exists solely to make them feel good about their nationality.

    Otherwise, they’re in for a nasty surprise once they get to college and encounter the type of analysis that requires all the facts, not just the convenient ones.


    Maddie Pickens is an economics freshman. Follow her on Twitter.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search