Advanced Placement History Test Accused Of Being Unpatriotic
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
William Faulkner said the past is never dead. In fact, it's not even past. And that's never more true than when people start arguing over how American history should be taught in school. This fight involves the Advanced Placement U.S. History exam. Almost half a million students took that test last year, hoping to earn college credit. Now the nonprofit College Board has changed the test in ways that some state lawmakers are calling unpatriotic. An Oklahoma House committee voted last week to review it and maybe cut off funding. Similar bills have come up in Texas, Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina and Tennessee. So we're going to talk about all this with Cory Turner of the NPR Ed Team, who's in our studios. Good morning.
CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: So what are they arguing about here?
TURNER: Well, they're arguing about a framework that the College Board released that is intended to guide AP U.S. History teachers as they prepare their students for the big AP U.S. History exam.
INSKEEP: So the question is, what are they going to talk about in class? What are they going emphasize here?
TURNER: Exactly. This framework is full of guiding principles to help teachers know what needs to be covered and what doesn't.
INSKEEP: Well, what, according to some lawmakers, is wrong with that?
TURNER: Well, a few things. First, State Representative Dan Fisher, who introduced that Oklahoma bill, he says he doesn't like the new AP framework because it doesn't emphasize the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the war of independence. He's also complained that the founders are hardly even mentioned. And it's not just the founders. Critics are quick to point out that the new AP guidelines don't mention Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. either.
But it's bigger than that, Steve. Much of the language in these state bills echoes a resolution that the Republican National Committee adopted at its big meeting last summer, and that said that the new AP framework, quote, "reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects while omitting or minimizing the positive."
INSKEEP: OK. So big concern about the drift of American history, also a political concern, you're saying here. And I guess we should emphasize that they're using the word emphasize or doesn't emphasize different things, meaning they may well be in there. There's a question of how much they're in there and that there's too much negative. So what, according to some of these lawmakers, is so negative?
TURNER: Well, it depends on who you talk to. Among the list is the persecution of American Indians, slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. I spoke with State Senator William Ligon, who's pushing his own anti-AP U.S. History bill in Georgia. He told me the old AP framework emphasized American exceptionalism. But now, he says, the course looks at America through the lens of race, gender and class identity. There's too much talk, he told me, of inequality and not enough attention paid to - in his words - the things that unite us and set us apart from much of the rest of the world.
INSKEEP: I guess we should also emphasize we're talking here about an advanced history class here, right? The students may well have learned a lot of other things in more basic history courses in earlier years.
TURNER: Absolutely. This is for college credit.
INSKEEP: OK, and what does the College Board have to say in response to these criticisms?
TURNER: Well, they've issued a full-throated rebuttal. The College Board is quick to point out that this framework was written by teachers and historians. They acknowledge that many famous documents and people, including Dr. King, go unmentioned. But that's because these are just guidelines. In fact, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation weren't mentioned in the old AP U.S. History framework either.
So the College Board's argument is that this was never meant to be a comprehensive document. That said, the College Board is listening to this debate. It's opened up a public feedback process through the end of this week and says based on what it hears, it could make changes to the framework the summer.
INSKEEP: So the College Board is thinking about this; lawmakers are thinking about this. Where's all this headed?
TURNER: It's hard to say beyond getting the College Board to consider making some changes. If any of these bills passes - and that's a big if - most of them would just initiate a state review of the AP framework. Actually dropping the course would be hugely controversial in its own right. And the College Board told me that in Oklahoma alone, students are on track this year to earn nearly a million dollars in college credit through just the AP U.S. History class. And even in Oklahoma, there are already signs that the legislator who introduced that bill is backing away from the idea of cutting funding.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Cory Turner of our Ed Team. Thanks very much.
TURNER: Thanks, Steve.