“Apparently, the Framework’s goal … does not include inspiring [students] to become proud citizens,” writes Larry Krieger in a scathing critique of the College Board’s new AP U.S. History outline. But he accuses them of “politicizing history.” (More)

The Battle for History, Part I: “A City on a Hill”

This week Morning Feature considers the controversy surrounding the College Board’s new Framework for AP U.S. History. Today we begin with the Board’s guidelines for pre- and early-U.S. history, and the conservative objections to those guidelines. Tomorrow we’ll consider the Board’s reduced focus on wars and warriors. Saturday we’ll conclude with the Board’s coverage of the Progressive, Liberal, and New Conservative eras, and why the right think high school history classes should celebrate conservatism.

“Before the arrival of Europeans”

The College Board’s AP U.S. History framework does not begin with the arrivals of Christopher Columbus (who never reached North America) or the Pilgrims. Instead the Board begins with a brief (5% of the course) unit on the period 1491-1607 that introduces three key concepts:

  • Before the arrival of Europeans, native populations in North America developed a wide variety of social, political, and economic structures based in part on interactions with the environment and each other.
  • European overseas expansion resulted in the Columbian Exchange, a series of interactions and adaptations among societies across the Atlantic.
  • Contacts among American Indians, Africans, and Europeans challenged the worldviews of each group.

The Columbian Exchange included slavery, and the Board notes that “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales.”

“A highly unusual and even extravagant use of valuable class time”

Those facts are hardly controversial, and their legacy runs through our nation’s history right up to the present. But Krieger – who owns an SAT and College Board test preparation business – thinks the events of that period have no place in a U.S. history class:

The College Board Framework begins its 9-unit chronological coverage of Advanced Placement (AP) American history by requiring teachers to devote 5 percent of their classroom time, or 9 lessons, to the period from 1491 to 1607. On first glance this seems to be a highly unusual and even extravagant use of valuable class time. After all, high school state-approved frameworks typically begin with the founding of the Southern, Middle Atlantic, and New England colonies. It is also important to keep in mind that the Framework devotes the same amount of time to the period from 1491 to 1607 as it does to the period from 1980 to the present.

Note that last sentence. As we’ll see Saturday, the period 1980 to the present is the College Board’s unit on New Conservatism, and Krieger is very upset that the guidelines don’t give Ronald Reagan enough historical credit … as they could if they didn’t commit an “extravagant use of valuable class time” to pesky details like the rise of the slave trade and the belief in white superiority. He writes:

The Framework’s global approach actually has a very important purpose. It enables the curriculum writers to establish their key theme that European exploitation led to native decline and black bondage.

Well yes, that’s a matter of historical fact. But it’s inconvenient:

The Framework explains that, “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians using several different rationales.” Once established, this negative view of American history becomes the dominant theme in the Framework. As we will document, the new College Board Framework is far more interested in the concepts of superiority and conflict than it is in the concept of cooperation and unity.

“Europeans and American Indians maneuvered and fought for dominance, control, and security in North America”

The next 10% of the Board’s outline addresses the period 1607-1754, with these three key points:

  • Differences in imperial goals, cultures, and the North American environments that different empires confronted led Europeans to develop diverse patterns of colonization.
  • European colonization efforts in North America stimulated intercultural contact and intensified conflict between the various groups of colonizers and native peoples.
  • The increasing political, economic, and cultural exchanges within the “Atlantic World” had a profound impact on the development of colonial societies in North America.

They distinguish the mostly white agricultural and commercial culture New England – “founded primarily by Puritans seeking to establish a community of like-minded religious believers” – from the more racially diverse and more agriculture-dependent cultures of the Mid-Atlantic region, and the majority-slave economies of the Deep South and West Indies. Differences between those regions, and with their Native American neighbors, spawned cultural conflicts that would play out over the course of U.S. history.

“The development of a distinctive American identity”

Or not, writes Krieger:

The period between 1607 and 1754 provides a particularly glaring example of the Framework’s biased approach to U.S. history. Known as the Colonial period, this era witnessed the development of a distinctive American identity. What fundamental characteristics will the Framework identity as being essential parts of the American character?

Note his use of the singular: “a distinctive American identity” and “the American character.” In his view, there’s only one … and it’s about how exceptionally wonderful America is:

The Framework’s emphasis upon British cultural superiority, slavery, and conflict with native peoples forms the core content of a three-week unit that comprises 10 percent of the course. At this point many irate and perplexed readers may wonder whatever happened to traditional subjects such as meetings of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Puritans mission to build “a city upon a hill,” and the contributions of leaders such as Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin. The alarming answer is that the Framework either minimizes or simply omits these fundamental topics.
The absence of coverage on the development of religious toleration is a particularly egregious flaw. Freedom of religion is one of America’s greatest contributions to world civilization. Yet, inexplicably the Framework omits the Pilgrims, mentions the Quakers once, and fails to discuss the importance of religious dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams and the consequences of the First Great Awakening.

Actual historians – rather than cheerleaders chanting “U-S-A!” – would dispute the fantasy that religious freedom is an American invention. Actual historians would note that the Pilgrims left England because the Crown would not enforce Puritanism in law, and left Holland for the same reason. Then they came to North America and expelled or executed religious dissenters. (That’s what the Board meant by “Puritans seeking to establish a community of like-minded religious believers.”) But many cultures attempted religious freedom long before Europeans came to the U.S., and the Diet of Torda guaranteed “Religious Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience” throughout Transylvania … in 1567.

Krieger continues:

Thomas Jefferson described New England town meetings as “the best school of political liberty the world ever saw.” Jefferson was right. We encourage parents, teachers, and students to attend local meetings and ask school and political officials if the new College Board AP U.S. History Framework is aligned with their locally mandated courses of study. If it is not, then the public has a right and a responsibility to demand that the College Board rescind the new Framework and adopt a more appropriate course of study.

He accuses the College Board of having a “biased view of American history,” but he reveals his own bias in this telling quote:

Apparently, the Framework’s goal of encouraging “students to become apprentice historians” (page 1) does not include inspiring them to become proud citizens.

Well no. History classes should teach historical facts, not Lee Greenwood lyrics. And as we’ll see tomorrow, Krieger is outraged that the College Board don’t spend enough time praising our military.


Happy Thursday!