After persistent pushback from conservatives, the framework for high school Advanced Placement U.S. history has been revised to give more weight to the country's positive past — and even includes a new section on "American exceptionalism," Newsweek reported.
The previous incarnation of AP American history standards — which took a decade to put in place — were released last year to a volley of criticism. Names such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams were omitted and detractors said negatives in U.S. history were emphasized while positives — such as America's role in winning World War I and World War II — were tamped down.
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said the course was so anti-American that those who completed it would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”
Colorado high schoolers hit the headlines last September when students from several schools walked out of classes to protest the new curriculum.
DakotaRidge High seniors Caitlin Bishop, left, and Crystal Butler, hold up their sign during their walk out September 25, 2014 to protest proposed AP American History changes. (Image source: John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Columbine High School students walked out September 25, 2014 to protest proposed AP American History changes as they marched to and stood on a bridge. Columbine and DakotaRidge students merged and lined up there. (Image source: John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Oklahoma, Georgia and Texas introduced bills threatening to pull the course, Newsweek said, adding that the matter reached the ears of the Republican National Committee, which passed a resolution saying the AP U.S. framework reflected "a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects." The recommendation was for Congress to withhold federal funding to the College Board until a new revision was cast.
So the College Board began accepting comments from teachers and others last fall, Newsweek said, and then in April it was announced that revisions would be published in July.
Now Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams are back in — and the accomplishments of America's founders have been reemphasized. And as for the new section on “American exceptionalism,” a College Board official told Newsweek the phrase didn't make it to the 2014 edition because the assumption was that the concept didn't need spelling out.
Geri Hastings of Catonsville (Maryland) High School, who's been teaching AP American history for 35 years and helped draft the redesign, told Newsweek the new standards aimed to eliminate possible biases.
“Some of the changes sound less pompous. Less morally judgmental,” Hastings told the magazine. “I think if [language] was tamped down, it was less about the criticism, but [rather] to make it less value-based. Just to put it out there, and teachers could then massage it as they taught it. I think before it was a little more value-laden. Now it’s like, here are the facts, teach it how you want to teach it.… I think it’s just more balanced, more mainstream, yet it doesn’t push things under the rug. There have been problems in our country. We enslaved people, and it was horrible. Again, you can’t just focus on that to the exclusion of other things.”
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