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Oklahoma Lawmakers Battle Over AP U.S. History Curriculum


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Oklahoma Lawmakers Battle Over AP U.S. History Curriculum

Stacy Rosenblum

State lawmakers are in debate over a bill, HB 1380, that proposes to eliminate funding for Advanced Placement level U.S. History courses in all Oklahoma public high schools. Proponents of the bill believe that the 2012 re-design of the AP U.S. History curriculum paints our nation’s history in a negative light. They’d like to focus on the victories and the glory of historical events which support their view of American Exceptionalism.  

For example, the bill suggests doing away with the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. Instead, it would emphasize the victories of WWI and WWI, as well as Manifest Destiny and the era of westward expansion.

The Civil War? If Oklahoma lawmakers have their way, it will be taught as a fight for states rights. Emphasis would be removed from what we all know to be the primary driver behind the states rights issue: slavery.

It basically says that if America does something, then it’s good and that we were justified in doing it. That’s just a poor treatment of American history.

Matt Campbell, the history department chair at Tulsa Public Schools explains the changes to the AP U.S. History curriculum, which were designed by The College Board. “The concept of American exceptionalism is downplayed in the new framework, but as it should be, right? Because that’s generally an oversimplification. It basically says that if America does something, then it’s good and that we were justified in doing it. That’s just a poor treatment of American history.”

Patriotism is an important part of any U.S. History curriculum, but blind patriotism is harmful.  If we don’t give our kids the opportunity to learn about the past mistakes of our nation (we’ve had some whoppers!) how can we expect them to grow into compassionate, thoughtful leaders? By proposing HB 1380, Oklahoma lawmakers seriously underestimate the intellectual potential of high school students and teachers.  

It stands to reason that our future presidents, senators, and governors are enrolled in an AP U.S. History class right now. Many more will take this important class in college. Do we want to teach our future leaders that the best course of action is to gloss over our past mistakes and transgressions? Should we ignore the unsavory parts of American history and highlight only the victories?

This brings up a bigger issue: why are state lawmakers creating curricula? The vast majority of state congresspeople, regardless of how educated they may be, are NOT educators themselves.

The perspectives of congresspeople are not informed by knowledge of adolescent cognitive development, the scope and sequence of high school teaching standards in U.S. History, or the foundational skills and understanding needed to teach the sophisticated topics contained in history curricula.

This is an impulsive proposal, not founded in good judgement or sound pedagogy. It is my sincere hope that informed, thoughtful lawmakers in Oklahoma will strike this proposed bill down and leave the AP curricula alone.


Photo Credit: Serge Melki via Compfight cc