Friday, September 26, 2014

The New AP Test Framework is Becoming a Lightning Rod

Lots of news coming out of Jefferson County, Colorado, where an attempt by the school board to change the AP history curriculum has led to protests by teachers and students. The board, recently taken over by conservative activists, has created something called the Board Committee for Curriculum Review:
The charge to the committee is to review curricular choices for conformity to JeffCo academic standards, accuracy and omissions, and to inform the board of any objectionable materials. The committee shall regularly review texts and curriculum according to priorities that it establishes, however, at any time, the Board may add items to the list for review. The committee shall report all comments (majority and minority) to the board in writing on a weekly basis as items are reviewed. Board members may move for discussion or action on items reported when matters warrant public discussion or action. The committee’s initial projects will be a review of the AP US History curriculum and elementary health curriculum.

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.
Got that, hippies? We'll have no encouragement of civil disorder in our schools!

Except, wasn't the American Revolution an illegal bit of civil disorder? Are the schools going to offer a balanced and factual treatment of George III's position on American independence? That would be interesting, at least. And how can they offer a balanced, factual description of, say, the position on race questions of the Democratic Party in 1920, without instigating social strife? Will they ban discussion of Nixon's wiretapping escapades or Bill Clinton's philandering because that would undermine respect for authority? What will they say about the Vietnam War? The Civil War? The mind boggles.

People like the activists on the Jefferson County school board want to have things both ways. They want a positive, patriotic approach to history, but they also want to "present the most current factual information accurately and objectively." And since the facts about things like slavery and the Indian Wars hardly promote American patriotism, it is very hard to do both. Fortunately in the US the notion that what we teach kids in history classes should be true is very firmly entrenched, so it has so far been pretty much impossible for public schools to bury the basic facts about our checkered past. But every time rumors start about leftists taking over the curriculum, certain conservatives freak out and start talking patriotism and respect for authority.


Shadow said...

Isn't it both sides? Keep the ideology out of the curriculum. A positive view of the country can be factual but not "true" because of what is left out. The same can be said for an approach that focuses on the negative. Didn't you just have a conversation about the need for history to examine both the positive and negative? Science is all the rage, but we need a good humanities program to produce informed citizens.

pootrsox said...

The same irrational nonsense has surfaced here in Lancaster County, VA, where the new chair of the board of education has also attacked the AP US History framework.

Here is the letter to the editor I wrote that was printed in our local (weekly) paper:

I'd like to correct some misapprehensions about Advanced Placement courses:
First, critics should Google "AP US history requirements" and read the actual document used by school districts and teachers who offer AP U.S. History.

The College Board provides a description, not a prescription: "The AP U.S. History course focuses on the development of historical thinking skills . . . and an understanding of content learning objectives organized around seven themes . . . . In line with college and university US history survey courses' increased focus on early and recent American history and decreased emphasis on other areas, the AP U.S. History course expands on the history of the Americas from 1491 to 1607 and from 1980 to the present. It also allows teachers flexibility across nine different periods of U.S. history to teach topics of their choice in depth."

Notice that the AP course and exam reflect what college courses expect from their students, since high scores on the exam earn college credits.

[NOTE: some of the yahoos around here blamed the Common Core for this change, since now the CC has become anathema to the Right.] The Common Core Standards cover math and language arts; there is no "history" Common Core.
Since there is no "curriculum" for AP U.S. History, there certainly is no bypassing of American heroes. Examples in the AP document are simply illustrations. Nor does the AP limit study to any side of any issue; rather, the course expectations include thorough examination of many sides.
The purpose of the AP U.S. History course is to allow students to begin exploring areas of U.S. history that receive less focus in K-12 classes. However, 90% of the course and exam focuses on the period between 1607 and 1980.

So all those things Dr. Westbrook says are not part of the AP course? They're included.