An Oklahoma legislative committee recently voted to defund high school Advanced Placement U.S. History courses. Republican lawmakers from the state argue the APUSH curriculum is too focused on the negative elements of U.S. history and does not sufficiently emphasize “American exceptionalism.” Espousing this unreasonable view and choosing to ignore the great breadth of historical perspectives this course covers is a cowardly attempt to shield Oklahoman students from the many ugly realities that color U.S. history.
The APUSH exam, which many college-bound students take, does not uphold any particular political ideology. Under the new framework introduced in 2014, the course is divided into seven themes, including “Identity,” “Work, exchange, and technology” and “Politics and power,” each of which comes with specified learning objectives. This new approach stresses critical analysis and the evaluation of multiple perspectives, and instead of endorsing an exceedingly negative view of the U.S. allows for a discussion on the topic. Furthermore, this format better prepares students for college history classes, where a greater level of discussion and analysis is expected.
The curriculum gives weight to topics such as slavery and the forced assimilation and genocide of Native Americans, which is perfectly appropriate given their historical significance. Legislators worry that focusing on atrocities within U.S. history minimizes its glorious aspects and indoctrinates students. However, their claim is hypocritical — reinforcing a rosy picture of U.S. history despite its shortcomings certainly qualifies as indoctrination. Learning about the United States’ mistakes is just as important as celebrating its victories.
Lawmakers complain about the course’s focus on “civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law,” but the movements for African American civil rights and women’s suffrage were social and political milestones. Downplaying these movements would not only be historically inaccurate, but also would diminish students’ understanding of activism. A politically active community is built on the belief that ordinary people can affect social change. History courses serve the important purpose of teaching the young about how to cause this change. Understanding past successes through activism prepares students to be citizens that can see the flaws in society and want to improve them.
Segregation, the Trail of Tears and Japanese internment, appalling as they may be, are permanently etched into the United States’ past. To sweep them under the rug in order to maintain a heroic image of America would be intellectually dishonest. High school should be a time to prepare students for college, where they will be forced to evaluate a diverse range of perspectives. Oklahoma lawmakers are holding their students back by attempting to blind them from negative aspects of American history.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 3 print edition. Email Zahra Haque at [email protected]