On Friday September 19th, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) will consider a resolution presented by Board member Ken Mercer. The resolution will request that the College Board rewrite its Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course and exam “in a transparent manner to accurately reflect U.S. history without a political bias… and to respect the sovereignty of Texas over its education curriculum.”
Much will be at stake on Friday. The Texas vote will mark a crucial moment in the growing national protest directed against the College Board’s APUSH Framework. This outrage is particularly intense in the Lone Star State. About 50,000 Texas students, approximately 10 percent of the national total, take the APUSH course. The Texas U.S. history standards, known as TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) and the APUSH Framework are on a collision course. A comparison of the two documents reveals a truism that every Texan knows – oil and water do not mix.
The Texas TEKS for Grade 11 U.S. History constitute a 14-page document that identifies key people, events, and skills. In contrast, the APUSH Framework includes a 52-page section devoted to “key concepts” that form “the required knowledge” for the APUSH course. The stark contrast between the two documents is evident in how they present military history, the free enterprise system, and the core values and documents embodied in the concept of American exceptionalism.
The TEKS recognize and honor the heroism and contributions of American military commanders, servicemen and women, and Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. The TEKS thus require students to “understand the contributions of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) led by General John J. Pershing” to “analyze major military events of World War II,” to recognize “the bravery and contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen,” and to “discuss the importance of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.” The TEKS also specifically require teachers to incorporate the GI Bill, the Berlin Airlift, and the Cuban Missile Crisis into their lessons.
By contrast, the APUSH Framework ignores American military history. APUSH students need not learn about the valor and sacrifice of the defenders of the Alamo, the Army of the Potomac, the Rough Riders, the doughboys, the GI’s, and the servicemen and women who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Veterans and their families will be dismayed to discover that Washington did not cross the Delaware, William Travis did not defend the Alamo, and the GI’s did not liberate Europe from Nazi tyranny. Instead, students will learn that the American Expeditionary Force in World War I “played a relatively limited role in the war” and that the “atomic bomb raised questions about American values.” The Framework completely omits the GI Bill, the Berlin Airlift, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Texas statutes and the TEKS require U.S. history teachers to discuss the role of the American free enterprise system in encouraging new technologies and scientific advances, providing opportunities for millions of immigrants, and inspiring small business entrepreneurs to achieve the American dream. But the APUSH Framework never even uses the term “free enterprise,” replacing it with the phrase “big business.” Students learn that “big business interests” exploited natural resources, corrupted politicians, and battled labor and conservationists.
America’s free enterprise system is closely related to our nation’s commitment to republican principles of government. We the People are united not by ethnic and racial ties but by our commitment to the principles of liberty and freedom. Recognizing this unique national foundation, the TEKS require Texas students to “understand the concept of American exceptionalism” and the “self-evident truths” upon which it is based.
The APUSH Framework does not share this commitment to American exceptionalism. Key articles (here and here) by investigative journalist Stanley Kurtz document that the Framework authors favor a “transnational” or global approach to American history. To these authors, America is just one nation among many nations endlessly competing for power and wealth.
Given this historical perspective, it is not surprising that the Framework devotes no attention to the statesmen and seminal documents that embody American exceptionalism. This is why the Framework omits key expressions of American exceptionalism from John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill” sermon to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The College Board knows that its new Framework is not aligned with the TEKS. A report commissioned by the College Board found that the APUSH Framework omits 181 required TEKS elements ranging from Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic 19th century statement of American exceptionalism to the election of President Obama in 2008.
Recognizing this problem, the College Board and its president, David Coleman, claim that the Framework “is not a curriculum” but rather “just a framework requiring teachers to populate it with content required by their local standards and priorities.” But this is an impossible task – the TEKS and the APUSH Framework are so wildly divergent that they cannot be combined into a coherent synthesis.
Even if the TEKS and the Framework could be taught together without instilling cognitive dissonance in students, there simply is not enough time in the school year to teach both. In addition, each question on the APUSH exam is firmly anchored in specific Framework skills, themes, and concepts. Texas students will not earn points on the APUSH exam for their knowledge of anything that appears in the TEKS but not the Framework. Embracing the Framework’s leftist and highly biased agenda provides the most direct way for a student to succeed on the exam, and so that is what teachers will teach. Is this what the Texas SBOE wants?
Since our nation’s founding, people throughout the world have looked to America as a land of liberty, opportunity, and democracy. President Reagan gave enduring expression to these values by referring to America as a “shining city” – a nation that is “God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in peace and harmony.”
President Reagan’s optimistic view of America inspired the TEKS; it did not inspire the APUSH Framework. That is why the two documents are not aligned. In short, oil and water do not mix. That is why the Texas State Board of Education must support Mr. Mercer’s resolution and oppose the College Board’s attempt to nationalize American history and force a top-down vision and agenda that usurps Texas sovereignty in education.
Jane Robbins is the senior fellow of APP Education of the American Principles Project, a conservative advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
Larry Krieger is a retired AP U.S. History teacher from Pennsylvania.