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Five Reasons The College Board’s U.S. History Talking Points Are Wrong

Concerned citizens cannot allow the unelected, unaccountable College Board to force a biased course with a clear political agenda into American classrooms.

In an effort to prop up its anti-American history curriculum rewrite, the College Board has started a proxy war. Its staff have been marshalling their contact lists and holding private meetings to prompt education pundits and professors to publish articles defending a low-quality, high-animosity curriculum shift. But the College Board’s defenders employ half-truths and untruths.

State board of education members in Texas and state legislators in Tennessee are spearheading a national movement to roll back the new AP U. S. History (APUSH) Framework. The College Board, the creator and owner of this curriculum, has responded so far not with real changes that address the problems inherent to their rewrite, but with talking points. Everyone knows talking points are a superficial substitute for real answers. But if talking heads repeat a canned answer enough times, the public might be duped into accepting it as a fact.

What This Is All About

We began our critique of the College Board’s redesigned APUSH Framework back in March. This is the U.S. history course that half a million of the nation’s brightest high school students take every year. For most students this is their first and last formal encounter with a comprehensive U.S. history course. The Framework document defines what the end-of-course exams will include and therefore what successful teachers must cover and successful students must learn. As with all AP courses, which are now a staple of U.S. high schools, students can typically earn college credit for exemplary exam performance.

The College Board’s ‘required knowledge’ focuses on identity group grievances, conflict, exploitation, and examples of oppression.

Instead of resorting to talking points, we documented our warning that “a dramatic, unilateral change is taking place in the content of the APUSH course.” We labeled the change a “curricular coup” because the new Framework replaced the previous and long-used five-page Topic Outline with its detailed (and growing) 142-page document that “defines, discusses, and interprets” what the College Board calls “the required knowledge for each period.”

The redesigned Framework usurps state curriculum standards by unilaterally decreeing what students should know with no public input or consent. State standards across America, while including the dark events in American history, also celebrate our nation’s founders, core values, and heroic servicemen and women. In contrast, the College Board’s “required knowledge” inculcates a consistently negative view of American history that focuses on identity group grievances, conflict, exploitation, and examples of oppression.

At first, the College Board ignored our criticisms. But an alarmed public (see here and here) heard us. Soon citizens across America began to question the Framework and see its many flaws. They were shocked and concerned to learn, among other flaws, that the new Framework omits pivotal heroes such as Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr., while using a “transnational” or globalist perspective to reinterpret American history. After a long silence, the College Board unleashed a platoon of proxy warriors armed with an arsenal of canned talking points to disguise how unbalanced the new Framework actually is.

1. Critics Are Not a ‘Small Fringe Group’

Instead of addressing the real issues of balance and academic quality, the proxy warriors began by attacking the people who dared to question the College Board. In a Texas Tribune article ironically titled “Putting Politics Ahead of Facts on AP U. S. History,” Susan Griffin, the executive director of the National Council of Social Studies, dismisses Framework critics as a “small fringe group” that deliberately misrepresents the Framework.

It is getting a bit crowded out here on the ‘fringe.’

Griffin has apparently not been closely following the growing chorus of Framework critics. It is getting a bit crowded out here on the “fringe.” Among those issuing substantive critiques are Dr. Peter Wood, (here) president of the National Association of Scholars; Dr. Ron Radosh, (here) a historian and fellow at the Hudson Institute; Dr. Stanley Kurtz, (here and here) an investigative journalist and senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center; and authors of a Pioneer Institute study on American history instruction (here): Dr. Ralph Ketcham, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and a nationally respected scholar of James Madison (Madison, along with most of the Founding Fathers, doesn’t appear in the Framework); Dr. Anders Lewis, history department head at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Massachusetts; and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita at the University of Arkansas.

All of these scholars have criticized the new APUSH Framework for presenting a slanted, intellectually dishonest view of American history designed to showcase negative events while minimizing and often ignoring positive achievements. They have been joined by the Republican National Committee and a growing number of state legislators and school board members.

College Board opponents have credibility, and our numbers are growing.

2. Persistent Negativity Is One-Sided

For five months, we critiqued the Framework while the College Board chose to ignore us. We pointed out what was wrong with the changes, including College Board’s failure to identify the people who actually wrote the new Framework. Finally, the APUSH Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee (nine college professors and high school teachers) published an open letter claiming authorship. They insisted their rewrite provides a “balanced” portrayal of American history. But “balance” would require the APUSH Framework to acknowledge both the nation’s founding principles and its continuing struggles to be faithful to those principles. The Framework manifestly does no such thing

The Framework ‘is relentless in castigating Europeans, particularly the English, as racist.’

We urge those who blindly accept the “balanced document” talking point to read the new Framework’s Concept Outline on pages 28 through 80. The Pioneer study authors did, and were appalled. They found the Framework “is relentless in castigating Europeans, particularly the English, as racist. The English, the curriculum notes, developed a ‘rigid racial hierarchy.’ It also notes the ‘strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority’ and the ‘racial stereotyping and the development of strict racial categories among British colonists…’” As these authors point out, the Framework either ignores or only briefly mentions the rise of democratic institutions, the emergence of a federal system of government, and the colonists’ growing commitment to religious freedom. The new “redesigned” APUSH course sidelines or utterly ignores these basic concepts that are essential to understanding U.S. history.

After surveying the Framework’s many biases and omissions, these scholars conclude (page 17): “The new APUSH curriculum represents the bad and the ugly but not the good of American history. The result is a portrait of America as a dystopian society—one riddled with racism, violence, hypocrisy, greed, imperialism, and injustice. Stories of national triumph, great feats of learning, and the legacies of some of America’s great heroes—men and women who overcame many obstacles to create a better nation—are either completely ignored or given brief mention.”

This negative account of American history did not happen by accident. Kurtz (here and here) has established a clear ideological link between the Framework authors, New York University history professor Thomas Bender, and University of Colorado history professor Fred Anderson. Bender and Anderson reject American exceptionalism. Bender considers American exceptionalism a “gross oversimplification” and calls for a new international, or global, perspective of American history. Anderson believes American exceptionalism is a myth that disguises America’s true imperialistic intentions.

Deeply influenced by both Bender and Anderson, the Framework authors removed virtually every example of American exceptionalism. While the Framework’s 52-page Concept Outline does have space to name 51 historic figures, it deliberately omits key leaders. Readers will also find that seminal expressions of American exceptionalism ranging from Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill” sermon to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and even King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” have also been omitted.

The new Framework has a clear bias and left-leaning agenda. It’s that simple.

3. Circumventing State Standards

The College Board knows its new Framework is not aligned with standards states have legally adopted as guides for U.S. history courses and exams. For example, a report commissioned by the College Board found that the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requires 181 elements from the Civil War to the present that are not in its APUSH Framework. An analysis of the Alabama Standards for U. S. History revealed 134 required elements that are not specifically mentioned in the new APUSH Framework.

Teachers and students will rightly conclude that the quickest way to a top score on the exam is to focus on the Framework, not on material from state standards.

For the College Board and its proxies, this content mismatch is a problem. What if citizens and state officials object to having their history standards usurped by the new Framework? So the proxies stress that the 142-page Framework “is not a curriculum.” They then repeat College Board President David Coleman’s chief talking point from an August email statement, his first public discussion of the matter: “it is just a framework, requiring teachers to populate it with content required by their local standards and priorities.”

Coleman’s “flexibility doctrine,” though, clashed with the categorical, bold-print statement on page two of the Framework: “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exam, no AP U.S. History question will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline.” After months of ignoring this inherent contradiction, the College Board finally announced it would delete this statement. But everything else about the Framework remains the same: a new national curriculum overriding state standards, a deep leftist bias, and the essential structure of the exam, which allows students little or no opportunity to present content outside of the “required knowledge” of the Framework. Teachers and students will rightly conclude that the quickest way to a top score on the exam is to focus on the Framework, not on material from state standards.

The Framework circumvents state standards and is so fatally flawed that teachers cannot give kids good instruction when teaching this AP course.

4. No Knowledge? No Problem!

College Board’s defenders invite people to examine the just-released APUSH sample exam, which they insist will provide “evidence of our determination that AP students must be exposed to a rich and inclusive body of historical knowledge.” Griffin proudly notes that the “first question on the exam highlights Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography.” And in a New York Times article, Dr. James R. Grossman adds, “For good measure, one can find Washington’s Farewell Address.”

If the quote had been from LeBron James, students would have approached the questions in exactly the same way. No knowledge of Benjamin Franklin is needed.

But these talking points are highly misleading. The Franklin quote describes his impression of a sermon delivered by George Whitefield. The three questions accompanying this quote have nothing to do with Franklin’s life and achievements. If the quote had been from LeBron James, students would have approached the questions in exactly the same way. No knowledge of Benjamin Franklin is needed. And if Coleman and company want to suggest the sample exam does require knowledge of Franklin, how do they square that with the assurance that it won’t test content not contained in the Framework? Where does Franklin’s name appear in those pages? Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

The use of Washington’s Farewell Address illustrates the close link between the Framework and the sample exam. Viewed from the Framework’s globalist perspective agenda, Washington’s Farewell Address damaged American foreign policy. If one reads the sample exam, it appears its committee (which also includes Framework authors) did not select the Farewell Address to highlight one of Washington’s achievements. Instead, they chose it to illustrate the dangers of a foreign policy based solely on national interests. From their globalist perspective, the Farewell Address led to America’s disastrous refusal to join the League of Nations (Question 31) and was finally repudiated by America’s involvement in World War II and new commitment to a role in global affairs (Question 33).

The close link between the Framework’s biases and the exam is not limited to eighteenth-century Founders. The Framework informs readers, “President Ronald Reagan rejected détente with increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric….” The sample exam then excerpts from Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech to guide students to conclude that Reagan’s speech “best reflects” his “increased assertiveness and bellicosity.”

In short, the sample exam confirms the pervasive biases found in the Framework.

5. Survey Course Versus Boutique Leftist Seminar

Some proxy warriors suggest that teaching a broad perspective of American history is not the role of an APUSH course. (This argument contradicts the previous talking point that the Framework incorporates state history standards.) Instead, the proxy warriors argue, the course should assume students have already been exposed to the “facts” in their state standards and now are ready for instruction in the “historical thinking skills” that pass for scholarship in much of higher education. The New York Times article goes so far as to celebrate the new Framework’s focus on the kind of identity politics present in some leftist professors’ classes.

But this focus is not what APUSH has traditionally tried to accomplish, nor what a good advanced high school class should strive for. APUSH has always been a survey course in U.S. History that has allowed teachers to incorporate state standards to cover the breadth of information an educated American should have. Since APUSH is the only dedicated U.S. history class many students will ever take, its radical conversion to an ideological polemic cheats these students out of understanding the richness of their nation’s history.

High school courses should not be held hostage by a small group of revisionist college professors.

An Unprecedented Situation

College Board’s defenders seem to believe that repeating something endlessly will turn fiction into fact. But their talking points wilt under scrutiny. Talking points are fleeting; principles are enduring. We stand on two basic principles. First, we unalterably oppose the College Board’s attempt to reinvent American history for ideological purposes. Second, we support a balanced APUSH curriculum that includes a full presentation of America’s core values, key leaders, and seminal documents.

For all its sound and fury, the College Board has thus far refused to address our core criticisms. Concerned citizens cannot allow the unelected, unaccountable College Board to force a biased course with a clear political agenda into American classrooms. If the College Board is allowed to remain above the will of the people, it will become an unaccountable arbiter of a nationalized American history curriculum.

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