In the halls of my suburban Massachusetts high school, any mention of Advanced Placement U.S. History (lovingly referred to as “APUSH”) drew collective groans. Its workload was recognized as the heaviest in the school, and there was a whole lunch table dedicated to frantic studying for its daily quizzes. The students who took the class were sleep-deprived and overworked, but they were recognized as the most serious about getting into college. These are the students who will be hurt by a proposed bill in Oklahoma barring state funding for AP U.S. History.
House Bill 1380, introduced by state Rep. Dan Fisher (R), would ban state funding for AP U.S. History on the grounds that it downplays American exceptionalism and emphasizes, according to Fisher, “what is bad about America.” The bill was passed by the House Education Committee 11-4 with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed. At a legislative committee hearing, Fisher said that time spent on America’s founding principles is sacrificed “in favor of robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people, where the emphasis on instruction is of America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters.” Additionally, state Rep. Sally Kern argued at the Education Committee hearing that AP tests are technically illegal because they attempt to implement a national curriculum in the same way that the repealed Common Core did.
A few different forces contribute to the push against the new AP U.S. History test. Fisher represents the faction determined to align education with Christian values—he identifies as a member of the Black Robe Regiment, a group with an ominous-looking website which calls on the faithful to fight those educational forces “indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.” The anti-Common Core activists also have a stake in the fight, as they believe the AP test imposes an illegal standardized curriculum across the country. These activists brought the issue to the Republican National Convention in August 2014, where they garnered support for the cause. The RNC ended up passing a resolution against the test stating it “deliberately distorts and/or edits out important historical events.” The College Board responded that the AP curriculum actually gives teachers considerable leeway as to what historical events to teach.
House Bill 1380 goes further than banning states funds for AP U.S. History; it also proposes an alternative to the AP course, laying out a more patriotic U.S. history curriculum for Oklahoma schools. The bill lists exactly which documents are appropriate for U.S. history statewide, including the Ten Commandments, three speeches by President Ronald Reagan, and one from President George W. Bush, but none from any of the last three Democratic presidents.
Oklahoma teachers have criticized this move, explaining that an Oklahoma-specific system would not translate to college credit for students. Though the College Board’s monopoly on providing access to college credit and other materials required for admission to most colleges might be concerning, it is the current reality. Legislators in Oklahoma should realize that no matter their own opinions on the matter, it does not make sense to prevent high-schoolers in Oklahoma from taking a test which might end up saving them hundreds of dollars in charges for college courses.
Perhaps most concerning is the fact that the Oklahoma bill is sparking similar movements against the AP U.S. History test in Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Colorado. Because of a few politicians who do not understand the AP system, state lines will cut students off from opportunities provided to their peers across the border. These students will not only lose the chance to comprehensively study the history of their country in high school, but also have a harder time gaining admission to elite colleges. Regardless of an elected official’s personal views, we cannot allow political gamesmanship to so directly affect the intellectual and economic futures of young citizens.
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