Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Fight with APUSH and Oklahoma

As a high school student, I had the honor of taking three different AP courses and one dual-credit course to count for college credit. These four college level courses helped me not only earn credit to move up from certain classes, but also prepared me for the intense studying I had to do for college.

However, with new changes to the AP United States History curriculum (lovingly nicknamed APUSH), many people are getting mad. Lawmakers are scrambling to either ban the course, cut funding for it, or change up the course to better fit what they think needs to be put in it.

Everyone. Calm down. We can fix this rationally. Both sides are at fault.

Before I delve into my ranting, let me give you an overview of what exactly AP is.

image credit: The Atlantic (, logo credit to The College Board (

AP stands for Advanced Placement. These courses are designed by the same company that develops the SAT college entrance exam, The College Board. AP courses are designed to prepare students for the level of work and studying that is typically required in courses across the United States. Courses include English Literature, United States History, European History, Psychology, and others. Not all schools offer all AP courses, but the prep these courses offer is invaluable. Additionally, the courses prepare students to take the AP exams. The exams allow students to gain college credit based upon their score (and also based upon what colleges will give credit for. Most schools will award credit hours with a 4 or 5 and not a score of 3, where 5 is the highest score possible and 1 is the lowest). In addition to AP, other options exist for college credit. Some high schools offer dual credit, or DC, courses in coordination with a nearby community college or even some 4-year colleges. This grants them both high school credits and credits at the participating college and can either be used at that college or transferred to other schools, preferably schools in-state. Finally, IB, or International Baccalaureate courses, follow the same model as AP: take the course and get a certain exam score for college credit. The difference is that IB is better for students seeking to study at universities abroad, though there are colleges in the U.S. that accept IB credits.

With that bit of background, here's the context: lawmakers in Texas and Oklahoma, amongst other states, are saying that the new APUSH curriculum (read it here, and skip to page 29 for the intro and actual framework) leaves out key things in US history, like civil rights leaders, war heroes, and other major figures.

 The Hechinger Report highlights what states like Texas and South Carolina are looking at doing: trying to alter it to not fit a political bias.

Specifically in Oklahoma, legislators want to alter it to where it doesn't make America look bad at all.

However, if you look at the curriculum and the responses from The College Board, it looks incomplete. Because it isn't a fleshed-out list of stuff to cover.

It's a framework. You know, like the steel framework put into a building. And teachers get to fill in what they believe would be best with each part of the frame.

I get that people are concerned that specific figures aren't mentioned. And they should be. MLK and Rosa Parks are amongst the major figures APUSH has focused on and need to continue focusing on. I feel that The College Board should have done a better job at giving a more structured framework that has more specific names and movements instead of a loose one that allows for too much teacher interpretation (more on that in a bit). I had to read and re-read the framework a few times to really get it. It needs improvement.

But why on Earth Oklahoman lawmaker Dan Fisher thinks that the new curriculum needs to be banned and that a state-only one needs a clearly conservative bias by focusing on President Reagan's speeches, sermons, and the Ten Commandments is beyond me. 

Dan Fisher, ladies and gents. photo credit: The New Civil Rights Movement (

Look, I get that you may not like the negative aspects of American history. I don't either. But guess what? America has screwed up before. We got a lot of things right, like ending slavery in the South, granting People of Color civil rights, and finally recognizing women as *gasp* people in the 1920's. But we still messed up, like forcing Native Americans off of their land and outright ruining our environment. We need to have the negative aspects for our students to learn from them. History has examples to follow and not follow. There are aspects we need to never repeat again and things we can continue applying.

But what Fisher is trying to do is not only create an (obviously) politically and religiously biased state curriculum, but also deny students the opportunity to get a real jump on college education. Students who score well on the exams can move past the basics (or CORE requirements, depending on what your school calls them) and get more into their major field of study as well as take fewer hours each semester; why take an average of 15 credit hours if you can reduce it to about 12 and have more time for studying, socializing, and rest?

To get back to Fisher's proposed curriculum, it wouldn't exactly roll well in Oklahoma's public schools because, newsflash, not every Oklahoman family is a Christian nor a conservative one. Not everyone will hold your views. Would that curriculum work in a private Christian school? Of course it would. But what is at the heart of it is that the new curriculum would emphasize the bad parts of what we call American exceptionalism.

To put it into a short sentence, American exceptionalism tends to gloss over the darker parts of our nation's history. Yes, this view is pretty non-partisan (liberal and conservative people alike have adopted aspects of the ideology, if not the entirety), but Fisher's special blend focuses only on all that our country has done right in our history. Ironically enough, he's amongst the crowd saying our country is so in the wrong right now, but hey, American exceptionalism can gloss over this dark time too, right?

Again, I know of all of the good things our country has done, but we still need to show our dark spots to our kids because, guess what, countries and governments are made up of people, and people are imperfect and mess up. Fisher (and other like-minded politicians) need to wake up and realize that we need to teach our history without bias and with the truth alone, both the good and bad parts.

But then again, he's a politician who has never taught in a classroom before as far as I can tell. Same thing for most politicians involved in education.


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