AP U.S. History Standards under Attack

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When it comes to history, many people are like Joe Friday of Dragnet fame: they want “just the facts.” But history—both the writing and the study of it—is about more than mere facts. As the saying “History is written by the victors” would indicate, perspectives differ, depending which “side” one identifies with. True historical perspective only emerges with the passage of time. Historical cause-and-effect can be difficult to determine. Emphasis is also important—which events or which people get the focus, the most coverage; which issues get downplayed or ignored. Finally, interpretation matters. And when it comes to interpretations, not everyone, especially not historians, agrees. Moreover, historians, being human, are not without biases, though they may try to maintain, or project, a sense of objectivity.

In 2014, the College Board issued a new curriculum framework for the AP (Advanced Placement) United States History course (known as APUSH). The board, the nonprofit company that oversees the SAT, also designs and administers exams for all AP courses in the United States. The new framework replaced the previous version, from 2010. The new history standards met a hailstorm of criticism from scholars who objected to revisions that minimized focus on the Founding Fathers, American exceptionalism, and other topics. In an open letter to the College Board, more than 100 of these critics called for American history standards that were “alert to all the ways we have disagreed and fallen short of our ideals, while emphasizing the ways that we remain one nation with common ideals and a shared story.”

The board responded to the criticisms and issued revised APUSH standards in July of this year, but another storm has erupted. The revised framework has been criticized for, among other things, downplaying “racial tension throughout US history” and for presenting “warped, sugar-coated notions of social and political history [that] will only foster more divisiveness.” One can only hope that all the controversy will result in more Americans taking a greater interest in their country’s history—all of it, from more than just one favored angle.

Image credit: © Jacobs Stock Photography/Photodisc/Getty Images

Related Links

  • All the Ways the New AP US History Standards Gloss over the Country’s Racist Past
    This opinion piece compares the College Board’s 2014 AP U.S. History Standards (APUSH) against the new 2015 Standards—and flunks the new ones.
    (Source: Quartz, July 31, 2015)
  • Revised AP U.S. History Standards Will Emphasize American Exceptionalism
    This article, based on a Newsweek story, discusses the controversy over the 2014 AP U.S. History Standards that led to their revision.
    (Source: History News Network, July 29, 2015)
  • USH Framework
    This open letter, published by the National Association of Scholars, was signed by more than 110 “Scholars Concerned About Advanced Placement History” who called for revisions to the APUSH Standards puplished in 2014.
    (Source: nas.org, June 2, 2015)
  • AP US History: Course Overview
    This is the official webpage for Advanced Placement U.S. History; includes links to course and exam description, which contains the “Curriculum Framework” (i.e., standards) and guidelines for historical thinking skills.
    (Source: CollegeBoard.org; accessed August 10, 2015)

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