*I like the idea of local control of education. Each school district is a great deal more familiar about their student population than anyone else. So they should be the deciding factor in questions of curriculum.
However if we are going to move forward together as a country there must be standards that we can all agree must be met. Those standards can come from a private company like the College Board or from the national government. But at some point we all have to get on board.
Recently states have decided that they were unhappy with the standards the national government created (Common Core). But there is a dangerous Catch-22 possible here. Opting out of the Common Core means states forfeit federal funding and consequently enter a downward spiral of less resources and, in all likelihood, lower achievement.
The current controversy in Oklahoma is similar. State legislators are in the process of passing a bill that would eliminate Advanced Placement (AP) History throughout the state. Although there isn’t any money involved in this situation, ultimately student achievement will suffer.
Even without considering issues of content, eliminating high level classes only decreases the opportunities for high achieving students. Following the current course of action of these politicians can only be called a disservice to the best and brightest Oklahoma has to offer the country.
But the reasoning for this course of action makes the decision of these lawmakers even worse. Their justification for dropping AP History is that it highlights too many negatives in American history. The story of American history that is being taught in high schools is generally the story of how great the idea of the United States was in 1776, how great it started out in 1787, and how it has only gotten better since then. With that basic backbone to the course, it is hard to believe any negatives would impact the overall message.
The AP curriculum is designed to complicate that story while allowing students to practice critical thinking skills. The best, and perhaps only, way to complicate things is to introduce episodes in American history where the country can be said to have been less than perfect. Certainly because there is a limited amount of time, introducing new elements of history means taking out some of the old favorites. But the worry of the curriculum nurturing sedition is silly. The AP History curriculum is still weighted toward positive aspects of history and still reinforces the idea that the United States as a country has steadily improved.
The buzz words in this argument have been American exceptionalism; and the argument has been the subversion of it. Philosophically I support students questioning the idea of American exceptionalism but I don’t believe that can or does happen very strenuously at the high school level because of the way the basic narrative is set up. Furthermore any questions students do come up with are generally answered with the positive change the country has made.
I will go out on a limb and have faith that the high school teachers in Oklahoma are able to deal with some of the negatives of American history while still supporting the idea of the country overall and the progress it has made. I will go out on a limb and have faith that the AP History high school students in Oklahoma are able to process this information without becoming suicide bombers.
Isn’t that what education is supposed to be all about?
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.