Texas objects to APUSH modifications

Philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Essentially, this is why history is taught. As humans, it is our duty to remember our mistakes and atone for them. But alas, it seems as though the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) does not agree with this.

For many juniors who are taking the AP US History (APUSH) class this year, the AP test they will take in May will be far from similar to the one their fellow seniors took last year. According to the College Board, the program underwent “a comprehensive course redesign project to ensure that each course reflects the most current thinking in each discipline” as of fall of 2014.

The current course structure has extensive lists of themes and topics, but did not specify what will be assessed. The new course structure has a curriculum framework composed of 7 overarching big ideas, 9 periods organized into 3 key concepts, and historical thinking skills, “ways that historians investigate and reason about historical phenomena.”

Some of the suggested themes of the current course include American diversity, American identity, and politics and citizenship. Some of the “big ideas” of the new course structure include beliefs and culture, politics and power, and peopling.

The current APUSH exam’s “heavy emphasis on discrete multiple-choice questions” concentrates on mastery of content knowledge. However, in reducing the amount of multiple-choice and including short-answer questions, the AP exam now additionally “assesses thematic understanding and application of historical thinking skills.”

According to Lawrence Charap, a director of AP curriculum and content development for the College Board, the new APUSH course was designed so that teachers could avoid the tedious journey through the dates and events that is so often associated with the instruction of history, and in replacement, “define the concept conceptually and give teachers the same freedom to explore topics in depth that college professors enjoy.”

In his eyes, high school teachers, AP and regular alike, “are often constrained by state standards, curriculum mandates, textbooks, and other issues unique to each school, district, and classroom.” Therefore, this new direction taken in the APUSH course required a change in the corresponding exam.

However, the College Board had recently come under fire from conservatives who believe that the organisation is attempting to politicise secondary and collegiate education, enforcing a leftist view on students. The SBOE claims that the mastermind behind this scheme is the new College Board President, David Coleman, who arrived in October 2012. In a letter released last August, Coleman states that the APUSH framework had already been undergoing development before his arrival, so it had none of his involvement.

The President is often known as the architect of Common Core State Standards, an educational initiative that specifies what skills K-12 students should master in mathematics and English language arts at the conclusion of each grade. The initiative’s purpose is to establish uniform educational standards across the nation.

Currently, five states do not follow CCSS, including our very own Texas. It is commonly known here that our educations standards, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and CCSS are like oil and water: they do not mix. In fact, Texas is so against Common Core that in 2010, the state’s legislature passed a bill prohibiting the SBOE from adopting the initiative or using assessments based on the Core.

What does this have to do with APUSH, you ask? Well, many conservatives are attributing the redesign of APUSH to CCSS. This, of course, raises many questions about the legality of the Core’s new reach in disciplines beyond outlined English and math standards and its influence on higher education. While Texas is adamantly against CCSS, a significant number of Texan students are enrolled in APUSH in their school. In 2014, Total Registration reported that some 67,500 students in Texas took the APUSH exam.

Last July, many Texan conservatives raised their objections. They were concerned that the CCSS teaching standards were being leaked into Texas’ classrooms; in response, the SBOE voted last September in support of making one amendment to the CCSS prohibition bill: all teachers are required to adhere by the state curriculum – even when teaching an AP or IB course.

In 2013, the Associated Press reported that 60% of students did not earn college credit for the APUSH exam. Most of these students scored a 3 on the exam; though a passing mark as established by College Board, most universities and colleges only accept a 4 or 5. The APUSH’s redesign is to give students an extra push towards success. It forces students to think outside the box: it’s one thing to memorise a date, but to understand the significance behind it is vastly different. Yet, the SBOE thinks that students will do better if they stick to cramming chronological dates in their mind, leaving no room for critical thinking.

But let’s be honest: it’s more than just the educational well-being of Texan students. The majority of the SBOE is conservative Republican, and so wouldn’t share most of the liberal views of the College Board. It’s a bit funny how they are accusing the Board of politicising the APUSH curriculum and distorting history, but in turn, want to censor out the proposed framework. In fact, the SBOE has always been very biased in their supervision over the education of Texas’ students. According to a report from the non-profit Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, the SBOE has previously voted on new social studies textbooks that heavily promote pro-Christian religious and conservative political biases. Their curriculum itself has always been conservative as well. In 2010, the SBOE approved of a social studies curriculum that would have a conservative mark on history and economics textbooks. According to the New York Times, among some of the stressed ideas were “the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government, and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.”

Texas has one of the nation’s highest high school dropout rates and with a heavily biased education curriculum as such, the SBOE still has the audacity to say they have higher educational standards than the Common Core. This isn’t education, it’s censorship. And let me give you a dictionary definition of censorship: “the practise of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.” For a so-called highly-acclaimed Board of Education, Texas’ own seems more intent on limiting their student’s education, not furthering them.

The SBOE is also criticising the new APUSH framework for portraying America in a negative way. The curriculum doesn’t cover much of the Founding Fathers and other notable heroes, true, but they do cover lesser known people such as the Black Panthers and Chief Little Turtle. And this is actually a good thing. So many people know of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but barely anyone knows of the Black Panthers. So many people know of Benjamin Franklin, but barely anyone knows of Chief Little Turtle? Did you know the Black Panthers instituted a wide variety of community social programs, such as the Free Breakfast for Freedom, and community health clinics, and challenged police brutality towards blacks? Did you know Little Turtle fought against white encroachment on to Native American territory, but also preached peace when the loss of life and his people’s extinction seemed inevitable? How any of these people be less important than the heroes society preaches to us about? How could we forget them?

Yes, the College Board is taking on a more progressive turn, which could have bad aspects. Progression could erase parts of tradition and make us forget our roots. But it was progression why Kennedy installed programs like Social Security. It was progression why women were able to vote. It was progression why our technology advanced during the Roaring Twenties. Our parents were raised in very different times and we were born in different times. As important as it is to remember our origins, it’s also important to keep moving forwards.

Thus is why the SBOE should not go through with trying to censor the APUSH framework. We need to learn about the ugly parts of our history just as much as we need to learn about the good parts. We need to remember the lost voices, such as the Japanese who were internalised in concentration camps while the white Americans were off defending us against the Nazis. We have to. US history should not just be white history: it should be all. I do not wish to live in a world where white history was a core class, and my history was an elective. It’s an erasure of identity. It diminishes our significance.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. That is the theme of American history. We didn’t start off great, and we never ended everything greatly. We stumbled, we made mistakes. But from the ashes of our failures, we rose to become better. And we have. America has a range of freedom her people can enjoy that most others cannot. Censoring out the APUSH framework would be a setback to that.