DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Students are returning to high school in a few weeks and a half-million of them will be taking Advanced Placement U.S. history. That hugely popular course has also become hugely controversial. Last year, the College Board introduced a rewrite, which was greeted by such a roar of criticism that it has been reworked again. Anya Kamenetz from the NPR Ed team joins me to talk about this.
Anya, good morning.
ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So can you remind us just what caused all of the criticism with the first rewrite in the first place?
KAMENETZ: Sure. So in 2014, the College Board released a new framework, and this is a set of guidelines for teachers who want to prepare their students for the AP exam. And this is the first time they had updated it since 2006, and there were a lot of changes in the exam that were meant to promote sort of more discussion and debate. But what ended up happening was that many, many people greeted it - they said this is very bias, and this is portraying a lot of negative ideas about America, American democracy, American freedom. And it really became a kind of cause celebre across the entire country.
GREENE: And, I mean, it became political, right? I mean, the Republican National Committee gets involved. How does this - I mean, this is history class. How does it get so politicized?
KAMENETZ: That's a really good question. You know, I think if you look carefully right now, there's really a network of education activists, many of whom had been mobilized around the Common Core and standardized testing. And initially, the alarm was raised by a former AP U.S. history teacher and a test prep company owner named Larry Krieger, and he got involved with people from the National Review and Common Core activists. And before you know it, Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Colorado policymakers are debating this. And as you said, the Republican National Committee called it, a radically revisionist curriculum.
GREENE: OK, so what exactly were some of the objections people had?
KAMENETZ: Well, overall, the objection was that the curriculum portrayed the United States in a very negative light, as it never kind of passed up an opportunity to highlight the racism of white Americans overtime. In particular, the course framework said that the founders believed in white superiority. It said that white Southerners had pride in the institution of slavery and also in foreign policy issues, calling former President Ronald Reagan bellicose, for example.
GREENE: So, I mean, are the complaints basically that the nuance is missing when this course is taught, that, I mean, saying that white Southerners took pride in slavery, you know, might be true in some cases, but it doesn't capture the complete story?
KAMENETZ: Well, the framework was not meant to be comprehensive. But I think in shifting perhaps to a more debate-oriented or critical perspective from, you know, the old version, which is more about a list of facts, I think there was a concern that what was implemented was really a point of view that was really about America as, you know, a problematic place and a place that is not special and not exceptional and not different from other countries. And I think that's what - that really got a lot of people dandered up, especially on the conservative side.
GREENE: So is - I mean, the College Board is now rewriting things again. I mean, did they take some of this feedback to heart and make some of the changes that people were calling for?
KAMENETZ: Well, that's where this really gets interesting, David, because the version that was released last week was actually hailed by many of its critics. And in fact, the College Board seems to have listened to many of its critics and even hired some of them to work on the revision. So the new version, for example, where it said before that Europeans, quote, "helped increase the intensity and destructiveness of American Indian warfare," now it says more simply in a more neutral balanced way that the introduction of guns and alcohol, quote, "stimulated changes in native communities." And another example of this, you know, increased balance - in the section on World War II, it says, you know, make sure that the students learn that Americans saw the war as a fight, you know, for freedom against fascism, whereas last year's version actually talked about Japanese internment camps and the atomic bomb and women's rights but didn't even mention the Holocaust or Nazi death camps at all.
GREENE: All right. Anya Kamenetz is part of NPR's Ed team. Anya, thanks a lot.
KAMENETZ: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.