Education Week - August 19, 2015 - (Page 9)
Historians See AP U.S. History Revisions as 'Evenhanded'
By Liana Heitin
After many months of high-profile,
politicized debate about the new
Advanced Placement U.S. History
course, which was overhauled for
2014, the College Board listened to
its critics and released a sentenceby-sentence revision of the document
last month that it says is "clearer and
Even so, the partisan back-andforth continues. Some conservative
commentators who said last year's
iteration had a left-leaning bias are
pleased, while others argue the document still doesn't say enough about
"American exceptionalism." And some
liberal commentators are condemning
the College Board, which administers
the AP program, for caving to Republican pressure.
At least one group, though, is
generally convinced the curriculum
guidelines have reached a good place:
"The vast majority of readers will
say this is very evenhanded, rather
neutral, and could even be described
as a colorless guide to teaching American history, which is what it should
be," said Jon Butler, a professor emeritus of American studies, history, and
religious studies and the current president of the Organization of American
James R. Grossman, the executive
director of the American Historical Association, a defender of the 2014 version, also backed the new one. "The
professional historians on the whole
think this is fine," he said. "Teachers
[also] seem to be fine with this."
How the Backlash Began
As the College Board has emphasized, the AP U.S. History framework
is not a curriculum, but simply an outline of the concepts and skills students
need for a college-level history course.
Teachers are expected to fill out lessons with more specific historical
content. About 500,000 students per
year take AP U.S. History, for which
they can earn college credit at some
universities if they score high enough.
The framework was revised three
years ago, in response to teachers'
complaints that the course required
too much memorization and not
enough historical thinking. That version went into classrooms in fall 2014.
But it wasn't until last spring, when
retired AP U.S. History teacher Larry
S. Krieger published several articles
saying the guidelines offered an overly
negative view of the country's past,
that the firestorm began.
Claims that the framework was
left-leaning and "revisionist" began
rolling in from a variety of conservative groups and figures, including
the Republican National Committee,
state policymakers in Georgia and
Oklahoma, presidential candidate
Ben Carson, the Texas state board
of education, and the school board in
Jefferson County, Colo. (See Education
Week, March 4, 2015.)
The authors of the 2014 framework
responded with an open letter defending the framework and stressing the
need to have "faith in history teachers'
command of their subject matter."
But some historians have said
that the initial document did lean
WHAT'S IN THE NEW, NEW AP HISTORY FRAMEWORK?
In 2014, the College Board issued a new, re-envisioned Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework, aimed at giving
teachers who were leading the college-level high school course more guidance. That document received adamant backlash, mostly from
conservatives, and has since been completely re-revised. Here's how the 2014 and 2015 versions differ on several topics.
"Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority
to justify their subjugation of Africans and American
Indians, using several different rationales."
There was debate among European leaders "about how
non-Europeans should be treated, as well as evolving
religious, cultural, and racial justifications for the
subjugation of Africans and Native Americans."
"The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power
in the Western Hemisphere and supported US expansion
westward, was built on a belief in white racial superiority
and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped
to shape the era's political debates."
The movement west was due to "the desire for access to
natural and mineral resources and the hope of many settlers
for economic opportunities or religious refuge." Advocates
of annexing lands "argued that Manifest Destiny and the
superiority of American institutions compelled the United
States to expand its borders westward to the Pacific Ocean."
"The mass mobilization of American society to supply troops
for the war effort and a workforce on the home front ended
the Great Depression and provided opportunities for women
and minorities to improve their socioeconomic positions.
Wartime experiences, such as the internment of Japanese
Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race
and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb
raised questions about American values."
"Mobilization and military service provided opportunities
for women and minorities to improve their socioeconomic
positions for the war's duration, while also leading to
debates over racial segregation. Wartime experiences
also generated challenges to civil liberties, such as the
internment of Japanese Americans."
"President Ronald Reagan, who initially rejected détente
with increased defense spending, military action, and
bellicose rhetoric, later developed a friendly relationship
with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, leading to significant
arms reductions by both countries."
"Reagan asserted U.S. opposition to communism through
speeches, diplomatic efforts, limited military interventions,
and a buildup of nuclear and conventional weapons.
Increased U.S. military spending, Reagan's diplomatic
initiatives, and political changes and economic problems
in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were all important
in ending the Cold War."
World War II
SOURCE: 2014 and 2015 AP U.S. History Framework; Images: Getty
ideologically to the left.
"Some things needed fixing," said
Butler, the OAH president. "Ronald
Reagan's rhetoric was described as
'bellicose' as a matter of fact, and of
course [the document] shouldn't have
Jeremy Stern, a Newton, Mass.based history education consultant,
said that while some of the politically
fueled objections were "over the top,"
others were "legitimate."
"What I objected to was the presentism of the document, the urging
of teachers and students to condemn
the past for not living up to the moral
standards of the present, rather than
trying to understand it from the perspective of the period," said Stern, who
was hired by the College Board to review the 2015 revision.
For instance, the discussion of western settlement, "mentioned in passing
that western settlement occurred, and
the entire discussion was on the impact it had on Native Americans," he
said. "All of that's true and has to be
included. The problem was that there
was absolutely nothing about the settlers, why were they going west, what
were they trying to achieve."
After gathering public feedback, a
group of seven historians and history
educators revamped the framework-
reorganizing the sections and line-editing for content and clarity.
The result is a wholly new document. The theme "identity" now reads
"American and national identity," and
its description includes the phrase
Motives for western settlement,
including the desire for natural and
mineral resources, have been added.
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams,
James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin are now explicitly mentioned in the
The new framework characterizes
early interactions between Europeans and Native Americans as "mutual misunderstandings," rather than
stating, as the 2014 version did, that
"Spanish and Portuguese explorers
poorly understood the native peoples
they encountered in the Americas."
Instead of saying that the British
system of enslaving black people
was "reinforced by a strong belief
in British racial and cultural superiority," the new document now
explains that "other European em-
pires in the Americas" also participated in the slave trade.
It also states that revelations about
the Holocaust and "Nazi atrocities"-
neither of which were mentioned in
the previous framework-reinforced
Americans' view of World War II as a
fight for freedom and democracy. And,
of course, the new version removes the
word "bellicose" in describing Reagan.
(See chart for more detail.)
For some conservative commentators, the rewrite is an improvement.
Frederick M. Hess, the director of
education policy studies at the rightleaning American Enterprise Institute, who had serious reservations
about the first framework, wrote with
a colleague in the National Review
that the new framework is "not just
better-it's flat-out good."
"It doesn't only address the most
egregious examples of bias and
politicization; rather, nearly every
line appears to have been rewritten in a more measured, historically responsible manner," they say.
(Hess also writes an opinion blog
for Education Week.)
Among the new version's critics is
Stanley Kurtz, a conservative commentator and senior fellow at the
Ethics and Public Policy Center. He
wrote in the National Review that
the framework has "little-to-no significant new content" on American
Others have said the College
Board's revisions went too far right.
The Twittersphere is filled with posts
bashing the board for "sugarcoating"
history and "glossing over" racism and
Jake Flanagin, who writes about
human rights for the digital news outlet Quartz, said that the new framework "tones down language (and even
mentions) of racial tension throughout
U.S. history," which he claims "will
only foster more divisiveness."
But historians, on the whole, seem
"This shouldn't be a political document," said Butler. "It shouldn't
glorify the American Constitution
or condemn the American Constitution. We need to teach our controversy, our successes, a real history-
and that's what this prescribes."
EDUCATION WEEK | August 19, 2015 | www.edweek.org | 9
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 19, 2015
Education Week - August 19, 2015
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Education Week - August 19, 2015