Imagine having your teenager emerge from a U.S. history course with only a vague recognition of the name “George Washington.” Suppose that course mentioned the father of our country with reference to only one speech – no discussion of his military leadership and triumphs, his personal sacrifice to accept the call to become the first President, or his wise and steady leadership during the tumultuous first years of our nation.
To put this into perspective, imagine how South Africans would respond if an unelected agency issued a history of their country that contained just one reference to Nelson Mandela.
Beginning in August, such a course will be offered to 500,000 of America’s most talented high-school sophomores and juniors – the College Board’s new AP U.S. History Framework. The new College Board Framework will replace the traditional 5-page topical outline with a 98-page document that dictates how teachers should cover the required topics. George Washington gets one brief mention; other founders, such as Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, none. The Declaration of Independence is referred to in passing in one clause of one sentence.
If the Framework virtually ignores the most important men and documents in American history, what does it find worthy of attention? The answer is, pretty much anything that casts a negative light on our country. The redesigned Framework inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country.
The Framework asserts that the British-American colonies were characterized by the development of “a rigid racial hierarchy” (page 27) that was in turn derived from “a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority” (page 29) – and teaches that much of the rest of American history was shaped by those beliefs. There is much emphasis on mistreatment of slaves and native people, but none on truly revolutionary founding principles that laid the groundwork for the freest nation on earth (consent of the governed, development of democratic institutions, religious liberty). World War II was a time of racial discrimination and other inequities, not of massive sacrifice and achievement by soldiers and civilians alike.
These omissions reflect not only a leftist slant on our history but also a general view that academic historical knowledge is unnecessary. At a conference recently held in Atlanta, Lawrence Charap, head of the College Board’s History and Social Sciences Content Development Group, told high school teachers that the new AP U.S. History course and exam will eliminate the unnecessary memorization of irrelevant facts and replace actual knowledge with “historical thinking skills.” Mr. Charap then cited America’s Lend-Lease program — which provided over $50 billion in military equipment to help our allies defeat Hitler — as an example of an irrelevant fact that should no longer be taught. Unlike the myopic Mr. Charap, Stalin recognized the Lend-Lease program’s vital contribution to the war effort when he offered this toast: “To American production, without which this war would have been lost.”
The College Board has a responsibility to provide a balanced curriculum that acknowledges both America’s founding principles and its continuing struggles to be faithful to these principles. Instead, the new College Board Framework seems determined to create a cynical generation of what it calls “apprentice historians” – students who “know” everything bad about their country but very little that is good.
The redesigned Framework is best described as a curricular coup that sets a number of dangerous precedents. By providing a detailed course of study that defines, discusses, and interprets “the required knowledge of each period,” the College Board has in effect supplanted local and state curriculum by unilaterally assuming the authority to prioritize historic topics. The Framework establishes the priorities, and anything that doesn’t fit with its leftist, revisionist view of American history is either minimized or omitted.
College Board spokespeople insist that the new Framework will allow teachers the flexibility to teach the Lend-Lease Act or any other state-mandated topic or person they wish. But the College Board’s own website confirms that the AP exam will focus exclusively on content specified in the Framework. In short, what isn’t tested won’t be taught.
The redesigned Framework is thoroughly biased, poorly written, ineptly outlined, and consistently negative in tone. These egregious flaws must be corrected. Teachers, parents, and school officials have a responsibility to demand that the College Board address these issues before the new school year begins. And legislatures and governors should eliminate this course from the schools.
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.