APUSH In the Right Direction

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Since the release of the 2014 Advanced Placement United States History framework, conservatives have denounced it for emphasizing “negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” Oklahoma’s House Education Committee passed a bill cutting funding for APUSH classes and boycotted the exam (evidently, when conservatives don’t find something morally correct, they just defund it). Students in Jefferson County protested attempts to “sanitize” the curriculum and even GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson commented that “most people” who would complete the course would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”

This fervor against what is perceived as an anti-American exam that devalues American exceptionalism and highlights our predecessors’ misdeeds culminated in a spectacularly contradicting petition published by the National Association of Scholars. The letter has helped conservatives obtain a revised framework for the 2015 school year. College Board caved so the framework could now formally include the founding fathers and the term “American exceptionalism.”

Teach history as it is—in its entirety. This involves understanding divisions throughout American history, not just mere abstractions. Holding “American” ideals such as liberty and opportunity does not erase differences in thought and identity, nor does emphasizing “the ways we remain one nation” make us more cohesive.

Many students already minimize the value of history class for being a textbook full of dead white guys. Some maintain that we need a curriculum that will make students proud of their country in order to foster civic awareness and engagement. Of course there is an essential civic purpose in teaching history: it makes people knowledgeable enough to participate in society and politics. However, conservatives are employing censorship if they feel that they need a specific curriculum in order to foment patriotism.

There have been many exceptions to our exceptionalism, where people have violated sacred principles like individualism, egalitarianism, republicanism, and liberty that make America unique. These pillars of American idealism remain the drive for progress. Unless we have a genuine critique of our past, we have a hard time obtaining a robust understanding of the origins of issues that remain today. We can be critical while still acknowledging our nation’s accomplishments.