0013_Letter from Scholars Across the Country Concerned About Advanced Placement History

There was an uproar in Jefferson County School District (Colorado) during the 2014-2015 school year.  Board member Julie Williams made a motion to create a separate citizen curriculum review committee that would look at the 2014 AP US History Framework and report directly to the school board with what they found.

People were aware of this motion before it was presented at the board meeting.

At the board meeting the unions began screaming “censor”, and some people said it was justification for recalling the entire school  board majority because of attempted censorship.

Little did people know that Julie had hit at the core of the problem in education today.  Some within the education  establishment in Jefferson County Schools  are intentionally keeping teaching a subversive activity, and do not want parents or others to know what is really being taught.

Without going into details now, I can say that Julie Williams is in good company to have recognized that the new 2014 AP US History (APUSH) was off base.  She was wise to have requested that a committee of citizens be put together to look at the curriculum content and report to the school board their findings.

Below is the text of a document signed by scholars from across the country  who are concerned about the direction the Advanced Placement US History course has taken.

NOTE:  Subsequent to the letter below, and actions that were taken to create an organization to provide courses competitive with AP courses, the AP chose to back off and admit that they were grossly slanted in their presentation of US History. 

The AP put forth another edition of their AP US History Framework.  Even with the recent changes they are still using  Type #2 Education.  Stanley Kurtz explains that the 2015 AP US History Framework revision is still not good.

[This is a link to the June 2, 2015 Scholars’ Statement opposing the 2014 APUSH Framework.  (It is also below.) ]

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June 2, 2015

Letter Opposing the 2014 APUSH Framework

The teaching of American history in our schools faces a grave new risk, from an unexpected source. Half a million students each year take the Advanced Placement (AP) exam in U.S. History. The framework for that exam has been dramatically changed, in ways certain to have negative consequences.

We wish to express our opposition to these modifications. The College Board’s 2014 Advanced Placement Examination shortchanges students by imposing on them an arid, fragmentary, and misleading account of American history. We favor instead a robust, vivid, and content-rich account of our unfolding national drama, warts and all, a history that is alert to all the ways we have disagreed and fallen short of our ideals, while emphasizing the ways that we remain one nation with common ideals and a shared story.

The Advanced Placement exam has become a fixture in American education since its introduction after the Second World War, and many colleges and universities award credits based on students’ AP scores. In fact, for many American students the AP test effectively has taken the place of the formerly required U.S. history survey course in colleges and universities, making its structure and contents a matter of even greater importance from the standpoint of civic education. Many of these students will never take another American history course. So it matters greatly what they learn in their last formal encounter with the subject.

Educators and the public have been willing to trust the College Board to strike a sensible balance among different approaches to the American past. Rather than issuing detailed guidelines, the College Board has in the past furnished a brief topical outline for teachers, leaving them free to choose what to emphasize. In addition, the previous AP U.S. History course featured a strong insistence on content, i.e., on the students’ acquisition of extensive factual knowledge of American history.

But with the new 2014 framework, the College Board has put forward a lengthy 134-page document which repudiates that earlier approach, centralizes control,
deemphasizes content, and promotes a particular interpretation of American history. This interpretation downplays American citizenship and American world leadership in favor of a more global and transnational perspective. The College Board has long enjoyed an effective monopoly on advanced placement testing. The changes made in the new framework expose the danger in such a monopoly. The result smacks of an “official” account of the American past. Local, state, and federal policymakers may need to explore competitive alternatives to the College Board’s current domination of advanced-placement testing.

The new framework is organized around such abstractions as “identity,” “peopling,” “work, exchange, and technology,” and “human geography” while downplaying essential subjects, such as the sources, meaning, and development of America’s ideals and political institutions, notably the Constitution. Elections, wars, diplomacy, inventions, discoveries—all these formerly central subjects tend to dissolve into the vagaries of identity-group conflict. The new framework scrubs away all traces of what used to be the chief glory of historical writing—vivid and compelling narrative—and reduces history to an bloodless interplay of abstract and impersonal forces. Gone is the idea that history should provide a fund of compelling stories about exemplary people and events. No longer will students hear about America as a dynamic and exemplary nation, flawed in many respects, but whose citizens have striven through the years toward the more perfect realization of its professed ideals. The new version of the test will effectively marginalize important ways of teaching about the American past, and force American high schools to teach U.S. history from a perspective that self-consciously seeks to de-center American history and subordinate it to a global and heavily social-scientific perspective.

There are notable political or ideological biases inherent in the 2014 framework, and certain structural innovations that will inevitably result in imbalance in the test, and bias in the course. Chief among these is the treatment of American national identity. The 2010 framework treated national identity, including “views of the American national character and ideas about American exceptionalism” as a central theme. But the 2014 framework makes a dramatic shift away from that emphasis, choosing instead to grant far more extensive attention to “how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial and ethnic identities.” The new framework makes a shift from “identity” to “identities.” Indeed, the new framework is so populated with examples of American history as the conflict between social groups, and so inattentive to the sources of national unity and cohesion, that it is hard to see how students will gain any coherent idea of what those sources might be. This does them, and us, an immense disservice.

We believe that the study of history should expose our young students to vigorous debates about the nature of American exceptionalism, American identity, and America’s role in the world. Such debates are the warp and woof of historical understanding. We do not seek to reduce the education of our young to the inculcation of fairy tales, or of a simple, whitewashed, heroic, even hagiographical nationalist narrative. Instead, we support a course that fosters informed and reflective civic awareness, while providing a vivid sense of the grandeur and drama of its subject.

A formal education in American history serves young people best by equipping them for a life of deep and consequential membership in their own society. The College Board’s 2014 framework sadly neglects this essential civic purpose of education in history. We can, and must, do better.

– Scholars Concerned About Advanced Placement History
Signatories
**Affiliation for identification purposes only

John Agresto, former President, St. John’s College-Santa Fe, and former Deputy Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

Patrick N. Allitt, Cahoon Family Professor of American History, Emory University

Stephen H. Balch, Director of The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, Texas Tech University, and Founder, National Association of Scholars

Herman J. Belz, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Maryland

Gerard V. Bradley, Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame

James W. Ceaser, Harry F. Byrd Professor of Politics, University of Virginia

James Jay Carafano, Military Historian, and Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E. W. Richardson Fellow, and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, Heritage Foundation

John “Chuck” Chalberg, Professor of History, Normandale College

Lynne Cheney, Former Chair, National Endowment for the Humanities

Bruce Cole, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History, Indiana University, former Chairman of National Endowment for the Humanities, and Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Patrick J. Deneen, David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies and Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame

Robert Faulkner, Research Professor of Political Science, Boston College

John Fonte, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for American Common Culture, Hudson Institute

Richard Fonte, Former Director, We the People Project, National Endowment for the Humanities, Former President, Austin Community College

Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University, and Herbert W. Vaughan Senior Fellow, Witherspoon Institute

Charles Glenn, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, Boston University, and Co-Chair, International Conference on School Choice and Reform 2015

Susan Hanssen, Associate Professor of History, University of Dallas

Victor Davis Hanson, Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow, Classics and Military History, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

John Earl Haynes, 20th Century Political Historian, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Michael Holt, Langbourne M. Williams Professor Emeritus of American History, University of Virginia

Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University

Robert Davis Johnson, Professor of History, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York

Amy A. Kass, Sr. Lecturer Emerita, University of Chicago

Leon R. Kass, Addie Clark Harding Professor Emeritus, Committee on Social Thought, The University of Chicago, and Madden-Jewett Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Charles Kesler, Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government, Claremont McKenna College

Ralph Ketcham, Professor Emeritus of History, Public Affairs, and Political Science, Syracuse University, and Senior Research Associate, Campbell Public Affairs Institute

Joseph Kett, James Madison Professor Emeritus of History, University of Virginia

Harvey Klehr, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Politics and History, Emory University

Yuval Levin, Editor, National Affairs, and Hertog Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center

Gordon Lloyd, Robert and Katheryn Dockson Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University

Herb London, Professor Emeritus and former John M. Olin Professor of Humanities, New York University, and former President, Hudson Institute

Myron Magnet, Manhattan Institute, and Author of The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817

Joyce Malcolm, Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment, George Mason University School of Law

Harvey Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government, Harvard University

Peter Mansoor, Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair in Military History, Ohio State University

George Marsden, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Notre Dame

Ted McAllister, Edward L. Gaylord Chair, and Associate Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University

Wilfred McClay, G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, and Director of the Center for the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma

Robert Merry, Historian, former Publishing Executive

Wilson D. Miscamble, Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

Joshua Mitchell, Professor of Government, Georgetown University

Paul D. Moreno, William and Berniece Grewcock Chair in Constitutional History, Hillsdale College

Mark Moyar, Senior Fellow, Joint Special Operations University, and Author of Triumph Forsaken

Johnathan O’Neill, Chair, Department of History, Georgia Southern University

Robert Paquette, Professor of History, Hamilton College

Ronald Radosh, Professor Emeritus of 20th Century US History, The City University of New York, and Hudson Institute

Paul Rahe, Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage, and Professor of History, Hillsdale College

Thomas Reeves, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside

Daniel Robinson, Fellow, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford

Diana Schaub, Professor of Political Science, Loyola University Maryland

Mark Smith, Carolina Distinguished Professor of History, University of South Carolina

James Stoner, Professor of Political Science, Louisiana State University

Sandra Stotsky, Professor Emerita of Education Reform, University of Arkansas

Stephan Thernstrom, Winthrop Professor Emeritus of History, Harvard University, and Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Jean M. Yarbrough, Gary M. Pendy Sr. Professor of Social Sciences, Bowdoin College

Donald Yerxa, former Director, The Historical Society, and Editor, Historically Speaking

If you would like to be considered as an additional signatory, please see instructions at www.nas.org/articles/open_letter_american_historians.

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