MORE

New AP U.S. History Test Infuriates Texas State Board of Ed Members

The textbook cover for an American history class, after SBOE members have had their say.
The textbook cover for an American history class, after SBOE members have had their say.

America is the best place ever. Everyone knows that except, it seems, our educators. The College Board is rolling out new guidelines this year for the Advanced Placement U.S. history exams that has some Texas School Board members crying foul. Ken Mercer, noted conservative school board member, says the new test reeks of anti-Americanism.

For starters, the test downplays American exceptionalism and emphasizes more complicated social issues -- for example, Japanese internment during World War II, the Civil Rights Act or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. The College Board claims it's simply trying to give students a more well-rounded view of American history.

But to some state board members, the test ignores how great America is in favor of a discussion of its flaws. "Those great generals in the Civil War, crushing Germany in World War II, that's all that really stands out to me," Mercer told Vice, recalling his own youthful days in history class. Now, he claims that "there's nothing in there about our military and all those victories."

The new test and course guidelines, however, emphasize sweeping general concepts, rather than focusing on minutia. And while it's true that the new framework emphasizes social issues in American history, the College Board says the intention is to complement the general historical guidelines and requirements that each state gives their teachers. But Pat Hardy, another conservative member of the State Board of Education, says the framework moves away from general college survey courses and is entirely a social course.

"To me there was a negativity to the standards, and very few positives about America were found. Here's the thing -- before they can discuss the good and bad they have to discuss facts," she says. "They [College Board] said this is what colleges are requesting. But there are very left-leaning college professors who have their own interpretation of American history and that's being brought out in this document."

Hardy says it's important for students to receive a solid foundation before they go off and are corrupted by liberal universities. "I think I read a statistic that said 82 percent of UT courses were gender or race related. That really annoys me," she said. "Why do we make such a big deal of that?"

There's no need, she says, to emphasize social aspects of U.S. history when it should be a survey course. Why for example, she continues, should AP U.S. history teachers emphasize how the Native American population was basically demolished by white settlers without equally emphasizing how Native Americans attacked white settlers?

The College Board is doing their best to abate the fear that they could be liberalizing impressionable teenagers. David Coleman, president of the College Board says in a statement that the last thing he intends to do is minimize American excellence and military achievement:

People who are worried that AP U.S. History students will not need to study our nation's founders need only take one look at this exam to see that our founders are resonant throughout.The exam opens with an excerpt from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. On this college-level exam, students will need to not only analyze George Washington's "Farewell Address" with care, but also articulate the influence of Washington's words on American foreign policy in the 20th century. Students encounter one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's earliest calls to our country to gather itself to combat tyranny abroad. Every question on the new AP U.S. History Exam now requires students to demonstrate an understanding of America's important historical documents and leaders. Students who pass this exam will not only be more ready for college, they will be more ready to be citizens.

Nonetheless, Hardy says that while Texas kids will be OK as long as teachers focus on state standards and put the AP framework second, the College Board needs to make sure they downplay the social aspects for students who are not so lucky to live in Texas. The board is expected to hear an agenda item at its September meeting that would enforce and prioritize state social studies requirements in all Texas classrooms, regardless of AP guidelines.


Sponsor Content