There is some terribly frightening news circulating the country lately about a staple course in high school education– news about Oklahoma making major changes to their Advanced Placement U.S. History course to make it more “patriotic” and less “oppressive.”
As you may know if you’ve read my bio, I’m a history major in college. I actually began my undergraduate career aspiring to be a high school history teacher, which would ideally have lead to me teaching courses such as A.P. U.S. Around sophomore year, I learned that I have a way with placing words on a page and realized the catharsis that goes with that, and thus I stopped studying to become a high school history teacher.
But still, for some reason, my major remained history.
And I think that’s because I have such an unbelievable respect and admiration and love for history. I think it’s because when I was little I had this amazing obsession with American Girl Dolls. I think it’s because the most influential professor I’ve had in college is a history professor. I think it’s because I recognize the intense need we have, as a nation, for understanding America’s history and how it has incredible consequences for our current foreign relations.
There are many journalists out there who have a far better understanding of what’s going on with A.P. U.S. in Oklahoma than myself, and far better talents with words for communicating such than myself; if you want to hear a really great summary of it all, check out this article from politico.com. Basically, State Rep. Dan Fisher (I do think it’s relevant to indicate that he’s a Republican) has made moves to revise the curriculum for APUSH (Advanced Placement United States History) in the state of Oklahoma. He believes that the current curriculum tells the story of the United States as chronic “oppressors and exploiters,” according to Politico. So, he seeks to redesign the curriculum to emphasize what many call “American Exceptionalism,” or, in other words, to only teach students of the good things America has done, to omit the bad, and to alter the bad to sound good.
And all of that makes me feel a little bit queasy.
The worst part is that this is sparking debate all over the nation. According to the Politico article, this debate has been going on for a little while, and Oklahoma’s move to start making changes is what has made this issue spread like wildfire. My fear, as well as the fear of many others, is that APUSH will be changed at a nationwide level to mirror Oklahoma’s potential curriculum.
I am only one small voice. I’m a history major (and a damn good one, if I’m to toot my own horn), but clearly I’m looking for work in some sort of editorial, journalistic capacity. I’ve never set foot inside an APUSH classroom as anything but a student. I know I don’t have a lot of ground to stand on, but I think I, along with everyone else who feels passionately about this, need to stand on it anyways.
I don’t know what other APUSH classes are like (but I do know that in mine, the standard textbook we used was deemed so exceptionalist that we needed to supplement it with Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States). I don’t know each and every inner working of what Oklahoma’s new curriculum will look like. I don’t know the likelihood of the rest of the United States following suite. I don’t even know where I stand on the whole nationalizing education thing.
What I do know is that if things like this do end up happening, it will be an absolute travesty to the entire discipline of history. Because we aren’t just talking about taking critical thinking and interpretation out of APUSH; we’re talking about rewriting the ugly bits, the bits where the U.S. enslaved African Americans; where they dropped bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki (perhaps they’ll simply reinterpret, and not rewrite, but still); where they were involved/responsible for some dicey dealings in Latin America during the Cold War (which isn’t even included in most high school curricula at this time).
It is so unbelievably frightening that there are motions and changes and alterations being made so that schools aren’t being transparent with students about their nation’s history. Quite frankly I find it offensive that lawmakers don’t believe teachers capable of teaching even-handedly and students of interpreting intellectually these complicated and ambiguous issues from the past that the nation is still dealing with. It’s upsetting that they don’t believe that patriotism can still be felt even when looking with a critical eye at past misgivings and subsequently learning from them.
Please, by all means, if you’re reading this, let me know what you think. There are so many things I don’t know, and I’m the first to admit it. If you think there is some piece of this puzzle I’m missing greatly, please let me know; I want so badly to know more about this situation.