Oklahoma: APUSH – American or American’t

Oklahoma’s academics have been preparing a funeral pyre for APUSH (Advanced Placement US History), a class that has been unceremoniously banned by a legislative committee this month.  The class can no longer be taught within state lines, and, in its place, students will have a class centered on “foundational documents,” such as the Ten Commandments and a handful of speeches from Ronald Reagan.

This whole campaign was launched by a group of incensed Oklahoman parents and history teachers, who began to notice that APUSH wasn’t as pro-America as they thought it should be. The cause was then bolstered by the support of a number of Republican legislators and also gained the support of an organization called the Black Robe Regiment, a group that wants to rekindle the loving relationship between church and state and is, to my disappointment, not an evil cult.

What exactly did this gaggle of Samaritans discover about APUSH that wasn’t to their liking?  According to New York Magazine, the group poured over the course’s content and discovered that it had become “a drumbeat of race, class and gender victimhood,” focusing too much on the plights of marginalized groups and not enough on –– wait for it –– the purported valiance and innovation of white men. They also disliked the fact that the course analyzes the shortcomings of certain presidents (like Reagan).

Oh.

The situation is, in blunt terms, ridiculous. The case against the teaching of the class is based on laughably petty reasoning. I don’t really know how to tell these parents and legislators this, but injustices have been integral parts of our country’s history (slavery and women’s suffrage, anyone?), and standing on your high horse and claiming that the course is flawed for teaching this is to spite a hamburger for having a patty.

And teaching the Ten Commandments and a meaningless handful of Reagan speeches in lieu of an actual class? Really? Last I checked, the Ten Commandments were conceived on Mount Sinai about 3000 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which is temporally and geographically too distant to respectably be considered a founding document. I also don’t really remember Ronald Reagan being around during the Revolutionary War, so that’s pretty suspect (perhaps he forgot about it along with Iran-Contra).

To add a twinge of dramatic irony to the whole debacle, those who wanted to sanitize APUSH rallied behind a cause that had already been accomplished. Most history classes in the U.S. are heavily textbook-centric, with students being forced to read page after page from their monolithic textbooks to accurately follow the curriculum.

Unbeknownst to many, the American textbook industry, despite its name perhaps conjuring up images of dour-faced pencil pushers, is actually full of more political intrigue than one may believe.  Many businesses oversee the creation and publishing of textbooks that specifically omit a number of historical details (such as the horrible treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the pilgrims) in an effort to instill feelings of patriotism in the nation’s youth. The end result is a fleet of textbooks that use generous amounts of spin doctoring to present the U.S. in a gracelessly fabricated way.

The whole crusade to homogenize history courses feels uncomfortably dystopian. I acknowledge that there’s some merit in promoting patriotism, but completely ignoring all of your country’s faults in an effort to reach that goal is pretty horrifying.  German schools diligently teach their students about the Holocaust, which is near the top of the list of major sociopolitical blunders, and we’re too afraid to tell our students that we’re not infallible?

There’s also the fact that campaigns like this end up completely shafting students. Oklahoman students actually staged walkouts in opposition to the ban, but their complaints fell on deaf ears. Groups like the one that championed the ban are more concerned about students learning what they feel is best, as opposed to what is actually best for the students. Paradoxically, they always get what they want. Look at what’s happened to sex education as a result of changes like these; what is meant to be an informative series of lectures on STIs and safe sex is now a slapstick routine of instructors cautiously skirting around unapproved material and generally just wasting everybody’s time.

To really drive the above point home, legislators want to use the APUSH ban as a springboard for collectively banning every single AP course in the state, using the reasoning that AP courses reflect the Common Core too closely (the Common Core teaching framework was repealed in Oklahoma in 2014, another controversial decision).  What is the point of that, exactly?  Does AP Physics following a specific set of guidelines somehow undermine the quality of education?  Are students learning how to condemn the government in their AP Studio Art classes?

The unfortunate answer is that there’s ultimately no point at all.  Legislators are hooked on the idea that AP courses are detriments to society and are basking in the amount of public attention they’re receiving for potentially wanting to ban them. Despite the number of benefits that the courses bring to the table (such as giving college credit and increasing GPAs), they’re probably going to get nixed regardless. Education once again takes another blow.

I’ll be crossing my fingers in hopes that AP courses will live to see another day in Oklahoma, but the future looks sort of bleak.  Hopefully students will be resourceful enough to fill in the educational gaps as they come, since a state that is willing to repeal the Common Core and ban every AP course universally is probably capable of inflicting much more damage than it already has.

 

Evan Siegel is a first-year literary journalism major.  He can be reached at ejsiegel@uci.edu.