Gates: History about more than just the positive side


Matt Gates, Columnist

Many of us took Advanced Placement U.S. History in high school, whether to learn more about our country’s past, fulfill a graduation requirement or earn college credit. Those of us who did not may have had the opportunity to do so. However, current and future Oklahoma high school students may soon lose the opportunity to learn U.S. history through the College Board’s curriculum, which is designed to match college-level material and possibly provide college credit.

Not only did the Oklahoma State House of Representatives vote to cut funding for AP U.S. History courses this month, legislatures in Georgia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas have introduced bills attacking the curriculum as well. The updated AP U.S. History curriculum has incurred criticism because it presents a view of American history that is perceived as too negative and lacking in patriotism.

Although it is perfectly acceptable for educators and politicians to debate to what degree emphasis should be placed on certain facets of the nation’s history, the argument that the study of U.S. history should downplay its negative aspects in the name of patriotism is highly damaging to history as a discipline. History involves the study of all parts of a nation’s past, even those that it is not proud of.

Those that oppose the curriculum say that it leaves out important figures and documents such as the Founding Fathers, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Declaration of Independence, but they ignore the fact that it is intended as a framework of general themes, periods and trends in which teachers can select specific historical figures, documents and events. The College Board holds that it intends to “guide” rather than “dictate” the curriculum.

According to the Oklahoma bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Dan Fisher, the recently updated curriculum places “a new emphasis on what is bad about America” rather than focusing on “America’s founding principles of Constitutional government.” The alleged shift toward an emphasis on the negative aspects of U.S. history does not mean that the new curriculum is necessarily unreasonably negative. All aspects of a nation’s past should be emphasized in order to give a complete picture of its history.

Opponents of the bill also take issue with aspects of the curriculum that address factual realities. Former AP U.S. History teacher Larry Krieger, who is helping fight against the College Board’s changes, cited quotes from the curriculum framework, such as how the Founders “developed a belief in white superiority,” as evidence that they are unfairly portrayed as “bigots.” The idea that any American history curriculum would ignore the undeniable historical fact that white Americans who founded the country had a widespread and strongly held belief in their racial superiority is deeply disturbing.

There is always room for criticism and improvement whenever a curriculum is written. However, the particular criticism that the AP U.S. History curriculum has garnered is unwarranted. Addressing the negative aspects of American history is not “unpatriotic,” but a necessary component of patriotism. Recognizing the mistakes in a nation’s past is an essential step to improving its future, a goal in line with patriotism.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to [email protected].