As was reported in The Guardian, cultural conservatives have scored a victory in dictating new standards for the Advanced Placement (AP) History exam. The AP exams, which are given to high school students and developed by the College Board, allow these students to earn college credit. In 2014, a revision to the AP history framework created a battle between those teachers and students who regarded the changes as historical revisionism, and cultural conservatives who believed the curriculum had been “anti-American.”
The new framework “explicitly introduces the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’, and highlights achievements of US history through this lens. It also includes direct references to the names and roles of the nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin – a flashpoint in the debate.” The number of references to slavery in the 2015 exam reportedly remains the same as the 2014 exam.
“Every statement in the 2015 edition has been examined with great care based on the historical record and the principled feedback the College Board received,” the College Board said in an official statement. “The result is a clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history that remains faithful to the requirements that colleges and universities set for academic credit.”
In 2006, the College Board began revising the framework of the AP History after teachers complained the curriculum provided insufficient time to immerse students in the subject matter, forcing teachers to race through topics. Last year, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution accusing the College Board of promoting a “consistently negative view of American history.” Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and presidential candidate, suggested that after students took the AP History course, “they’d be ready to go sign up for ISIS.”
In Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, the AP exam was the subject of political debates. Earlier this year, the Oklahoma state legislature effectively banned the course in public high schools. Further, the Texas state education agency, dominated by Republicans, pressured the College Board to rewrite the curriculum.
Texas is no stranger to revising educational standards, as its state board of education, dominated by cultural conservatives and Christian fundamentalist homeschoolers, adopted new textbook standards that made slavery a “side issue to the Civil War.” New textbooks will teach students in the predominantly Latino and Black Texas public schools that the war was fought over sectionalism and states’ rights, with slavery in a secondary role. Texas students are required to read Confederate president Jefferson Davis’ speech, which did not mention slavery, and are presented President Lincoln and Davis as moral equivalents. Further, students will not learn about the Ku Klux Klan, the white supremacist terror group founded by Confederate veterans. The purpose of the new standards was purportedly to overcome a “liberal bias” in teaching.
The news coming from the College Board provides further proof that white America cannot grapple with their historical and present roles in perpetuating racism. If history is told from the vantage point of the victors, then Black people have suffered a considerable defeat. This underscores the power of narratives, their content and who controls them. These narratives, which permeate society and indoctrinate a future generation of leaders, tell us about our past, but also provide us a road map to our future. And if the prevailing narratives tell us that slavery was a blip on the radar screen–or even worse, an institution from which Black people benefited and actually enjoyed and thrived–then society will continue to reinforce white superiority and privilege.
White young people, and unfortunately young Black and Brown people, take their cues from these lesson plans, which tell them people of color are not a part of real American history and are relegated to once a month. Black people must control their own historical narratives, and ensure their children learn these narratives everyday.