This post isn’t really international in nature, but I think it’s still important to write about. Recently, the Oklahoma House Committee on Education approved a bill that would cut all government funding for AP United States History courses, essentially removing AP U.S. History from public high schools in Oklahoma. Supporters of this bill say that AP U.S. History is “anti-American” and emphasizes the negative aspects of American history, rather than painting American historical figures in a positive light. The bill’s main supporter, state representative Dan Fischer, said in a committee hearing that the AP US History curriculum “trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of Constitutional government in favor of robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people, where the emphasis on instruction is of America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters,” according to a CNN report. The bill also proposed a curriculum for a replacement U.S. History course, which emphasized the documents important in laying out the ideal values of American democracy. AP U.S. History has sparked controversy in other parts of the country as well. In my home state of Colorado, student and teacher protests were sparked when the Jefferson County school board mentioned plans to change it’s district’s AP U.S. History classes to be more favorable to the U.S..
The AP U.S. History controversy brings up a lot of issues regarding education. I think we would all agree that “education” as an abstract idea is a good thing. We’re always talking about how education can pull somebody out of poverty, or how education can promote peace. But we have to think about what exactly education is. What exactly is it that we are being educated about? Historically, governments have used education as a tool to advance their agendas and beliefs. For example, the other day in one of my classes, we were looking at a math test from a school in Nazi Germany. The word problems on the test were pretty straightforward – simple multiplication and division – yet they still advanced a political agenda. The first question asked students to calculate how much money was used to care for mentally and physically disabled people in government institutions. The next question asked them to find how many houses could be built with this money. Though the questions were simple mathematically, they were still subtly telling students that money spent caring for those unable to support themselves could be spent for the more useful purpose of building houses, thus making students more likely to accept discrimination against, or even elimination of, people in government funded institutions.
The influence of an AP U.S. History course is even less subtle than this. What we learn in a history course forms our belief of what actually happened in the past, which in term influences what we will do in the future. Ask anyone why learning history is important, and the go-to answer is always “so that we can learn from our mistakes”. The AP U.S. History curriculum is being criticized for it’s emphasis on the United States’ mistakes, but isn’t that the point? Aren’t we supposed to learn about our mistakes so that we don’t make the same ones again? Yes, I agree that it’s important to learn about the positives as well, about the democratic ideals that made this country distinct, but those ideals aren’t the only aspect of our collective past. Maybe our history isn’t quite as pretty as we want it to be