‘Misapprehension’ over AP History caused conservative backlash, prof says

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Photo: JeffCo protest 7Several years ago, when he was one of a handful of academics on a commission to overhaul how Advanced Placement U.S. History would be taught, Fred Anderson did not foresee a political firestorm.

Anderson, a University of Colorado-Boulder history professor, says he and his colleagues were quibbling over how to best provide students with a rich and comprehensive understanding of America’s past.

“I’d just like it to be understood,” Anderson says of efforts to create a new U.S. history program for 500,000 students around the country. “I think a lot of misapprehension has arisen from people’s lack of information about our intention.”

The list of those against the new framework -- guidelines for what and how teachers help students learn the subject -- is growing. Among them, the Republican National Committee, which provides leadership to Republicans across the country. It deemed the new AP History framework as “radically revisionist” in August, passing a resolution denouncing it.

The RNC claims the framework provides “no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history” and omits other topics that "have always been a part of" the AP history course.

Colorado backlash

Also voicing opposition to the new framework: Colorado Board of Education Chairman Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, Colorado. In August, he issued a draft resolution nearly identical to the RNC’s, adding a demand that the nonprofit College Board, which administers the new AP framework, hold off on its implementation for a year.

About 25,500 students across Colorado take the AP test each year.

(Photo: ap history image)Lundeen’s resolution also described the framework “biased” and “inaccurate," criticizing the exclusion of discussion about “the U.S. military (no battles, commanders or heroes)" and figures like George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.

Lundeen was not available to comment, but in an email said his resolution “was not voted on because curriculum is the domain of local school districts in Colorado but raised and discussed in the open forum of the state board to raise awareness in Colorado of the change in process and content.”

On Thursday, the board for Colorado’s second-largest school district, Jefferson County, is expected to take up the issue of whether to form a committee to review how AP history is taught.

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School board member Julie Williams initially proposed that AP courses should “promote patriotism” and that materials “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

Williams’ resolution has spawned student protests in recent days -- hundred have walked out of schools. The College Board issued a statement saying it supported the students and that any alterations to the AP History framework would essentially nullify it.

Williams' initial language was dropped. What remains is an idea that an oversight committee would review history coursework “according to priorities that it establishes” and for “accuracy, omissions, and materials that may reasonably be deemed objectionable.”

Williams has not returned repeated calls and emails from CPR News seeking comment.

Professor: Framework isn't curriculum

Anderson, the CU history professor, began his work with the College Board commission in 2006 and 2007, but this year is the first year the new history framework is being implemented. He argues that the new framework does not mean teachers will omit key historical figures.

"For example, the Constitutional Convention is obviously part of AP course instruction," Anderson says. "It’s central to it. To talk about the Constitutional Convention, you have to talk about George Washington, about Benjamin Franklin, about James Madison, about the whole crew of folks who were sitting there, sweating away. You can’t escape them. You wouldn’t want to. It’s fascinating.”

The AP framework, he adds, wouldn't need to remind teachers about the role of such historical figures.

(Photo: Fred Anderson)“They would find it incredible condescending to be directed at that level,” Anderson says. “The absence of mention is not in any sense an exclusion and it’s a misconception about the framework that that’s the case.”

Asked if the role of religion in American history is marginalized in the new framework, Anderson says the United States’ federal government was founded “on a kind of secular covenant among people who agreed on certain principles, among which was necessarily the one that no religion should enjoy the support” of the United States.

Lundeen, with the Colorado Board of Education, said in lieu of an interview with him that CPR News could talk with Larry Krieger, a retired New Jersey high school teacher who is leading a national fight against the new AP History framework. Krieger testified on Lundeen’s resolution and also to the state of Texas’ education board before it voted to ban the new national AP test. Texas now requires high school students there to be taught through a strictly state-mandated program.

Krieger says the old AP History test, which was used through last year, didn’t need to be fixed.

“The 2013 test had six questions on quotes, it had cartoons, it had maps, it had graphs and charts -- all the various skill elements that they say they’re adding have actually been there all along and the old exam had two 35-minute essays permitting kids to think in depth; the new one, just one,” Krieger says. “So really, the old exam, the old flexible topical outlines were vastly superior to the new one.”

Krieger adds that his concern with the new AP History framework is that it “presents an unrelenting negative portrayal of the American experience.

“At the same time,” Krieger adds, “it omits the key concept of American exceptionalism -- the belief that our country has a mission to defend and protect democratic ideals at home and around the world. That concept is missing, as are all the seminal documents from Winthrop's 'city on a hill' to the Gettysburg Address to Dr. King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech.”

Anderson calls the idea of American exceptionalism a “fascinating concept.”

“Effectively, it’s a faith position-- it’s sort of like Intelligent Design -- it can’t be disproven or proven by evidence,” Anderson says. “And historians are bound by evidence.”