The “Open Letter from the Authors of the AP United States History Curriculum Framework” raises a number of important issues. Here is our response to the key points raised in this “Open Letter,” followed by a list of 29 biased and ill-considered statements from the Framework, and a list of 17 omitted seminal documents about U.S. history.
1. Who wrote the College Board’s AP U.S. History (APUSH) Framework?
The nine members of the College Board’s Advanced Placement United States History Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee identify themselves as the authors of the APUSH Curriculum Framework. However, page v of the Framework lists 19 college professors and high school teachers under the heading “Acknowledgments.” There is a significant professional difference between the terms “Acknowledgments” and “Authors.” If the nine signers of the “Open Letter” are indeed authors who wrote the APUSH Framework, the College Board has a responsibility to revise its misleading attribution on page v. In addition, since one other professor who was listed under “Acknowledgments” admitted he didn’t know who actually wrote the Framework, there remains significant confusion about who really created the working drafts that the signers of the Open Letter used.
2. For whom was the APUSH Curriculum Framework written?
The Open Letter authors state that the Framework “was written by and for other AP teachers.” This statement ignores that the Framework prescribes the essential content that will be taught to about 500,000 high school sophomores and juniors. These students are the sons and daughters of parents who have a direct stake in what is being taught to their children.
The “by the profession, for the profession” approach endorsed by the Open Letter authors also excludes civic leaders who are not specialists but are deeply concerned about how U.S. history is taught to American high school students. Including people from outside the academic world would have added to the Framework’s credibility and might have saved the document from its egregious problems.
3. Why does the Framework omit key American leaders and seminal documents?
The Open Letter acknowledges that the Framework omits Benjamin Franklin, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr, and many other key figures in American history. They accuse critics of “misunderstanding our document.” Unfortunately, we have not misunderstood anything; the document is clear. The Framework devotes pages 28 to 80 to a detailed outline of the “required knowledge” students are expected to learn in their AP U.S. History course. The Framework unequivocally states, “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, no AP U.S. History Exam questions will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline” (emphasis added).
The Framework is a lengthy document that provides more than enough space to include key figures and seminal documents from American history. Neither the College Board nor the Open Letter authors have explained why the Framework does have space to include Chief Little Turtle, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers, but does not have space to include Dwight Eisenhower, Jonas Salk, and Martin Luther King Jr. The omissions have been widely criticized. But once again, College Board officials and the Open Letter authors have adamantly refused to revise the Framework or delay its implementation.
4. What will critics find when they examine the AP Practice Exam?
The Open Letter authors invite critics to examine the just-released AP Practice Exam. They contend that reviewers will find “a rich and inclusive body of historic knowledge.” In reality, reviewers will find an exam that tests a surprisingly limited range of topics. Since every exam question is firmly anchored in the Framework, the test does not include questions on Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr, and numerous other historic figures.
President Ronald Reagan is the only historic figure who actually generates specific questions. In one question, Reagan’s famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” quote is used to reflect “increased assertiveness and bellicosity.” In another question, President Bill Clinton’s ideas on “big government” are associated with ideas expressed by Reagan.
It is important to compare the lack of key figures on the Practice Exam with the inclusion of key figures on previous APUSH exams. An analysis of eight released exams revealed seven multiple-choice questions on Thomas Jefferson, five on William Lloyd Garrison, seven on Theodore Roosevelt, four on Dwight Eisenhower, and six on Martin Luther King, Jr. This predictable clustering of questions on key figures and events enabled teachers to efficiently prepare their students for the APUSH exam.
5. Does the Framework provide a balanced coverage of American history?
The Open Letter authors insist that the Framework strikes “a careful balance between teaching factual knowledge and critical analysis.” We believe the APUSH Framework fails to meet the test of providing a balanced curriculum that acknowledges both the nation’s founding principles and its continuing struggles to be faithful to those principles. Here is a list of biased statements taken verbatim from the Framework. In addition, we have added a list of seminal documents omitted by the Framework. Taken together, they provide overwhelming evidence that the College Board Framework seems determined to create a cynical generation of what it calls “apprentice historians.” Is this really what we want our nation’s top students to know about American history:
1. Teachers can explore the roots of the modern environmental movement in the Progressive Era and New Deal, as well as debate the underlying and proximate causes of environmental catastrophes arising from pesticide use and offshore oil drilling. (Pages 12 – 13)
2. Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales. (Page 34)
3. Unlike Spanish, French, and Dutch colonies, which accepted intermarriage and cross-racial sexual unions with native peoples (and, in Spain’s case, with enslaved Africans), English colonies attracted both males and females who rarely intermarried with either native peoples or Africans, leading to the development of a rigid racial hierarchy. (Page 35)
4. Reinforced by a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority, the British system enslaved black people in perpetuity, altered African gender and kinship relationships in the colonies and was one factor that led the British colonists into violent confrontations with native peoples. (Page 36)
5. The New England colonies, founded primarily by Puritans, seeking to establish a community of like-minded religious believers, developed a close-knit, homogeneous society and – aided by favorable environmental conditions – a thriving mixed economy of agriculture and commerce. (Page 36. Note that this is the Framework’s sole statement about the New England colonies. It omits the Pilgrims, Mayflower Compact, Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill,” Roger Williams and religious toleration, New England town meetings and the birth of democratic institutions, and much more.)
6. The demographically, religiously, and ethnically diverse middle colonies supported a flourishing export economy based on cereal crops… (Page 36. Note that this is the Framework’s sole statement about the Middle Colonies. It omits William Penn, the Quakers, Pennsylvania policy of religious toleration, and the fact that its economic prosperity attracted a diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups.)
7. The colonies along the southernmost Atlantic coast and the British islands in the West Indies took advantage of long growing seasons by using slave labor to develop economies based on staple crops; in some cases, enslaved Africans
constituted the majority of the population. (Page 37. Note that slavery is the sole focus. This omits the House of Burgesses, the Maryland Act of Religious Toleration, and much more.)
8. European colonization efforts in North America stimulated cultural contact and intensified conflict between the various groups of colonizers and native peoples. (Page 37. Note that this “Key Concept” establishes the Framework’s dominant theme that American history is really the story of identity groups and conflicts.)
9. By supplying American Indian allies with deadlier weapons and alcohol, and by rewarding Indian military actions, Europeans helped increase the intensity and destructiveness of American Indian warfare. (Page 38. Note the Europeans are portrayed as destructive predators.)
10. The presence of slavery and the impact of colonial wars stimulated the growth of ideas on race in this Atlantic system, leading to the emergence of racial stereotyping and the development of strict racial categories among British colonists, which contrasted with Spanish and French acceptance of racial gradations. (Page 39)
11. Although George Washington’s Farewell Address warned about the dangers of divisive political parties and permanent foreign alliances… (Page 43. This is the Framework’s sole reference to George Washington.)
12. The colonists’ belief in the superiority of republican self-government based on the natural rights of the people found its clearest American expression in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and in the Declaration of Independence. (Page 43. This is the Framework’s sole reference to the Declaration of Independence. Note that it actually follows Washington’s Farewell Address. Although the Framework stresses the skill of historical causation, the document contains numerous examples of events that are not presented in chronological order.)
13. Teachers have the flexibility to use examples such as the following: corridos, architecture of Spanish missions, vaqueros. (Page 46. Note that the Framework does have space for these topics but cannot find the space to discuss Washington’s career and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.)
14. Many white Americans in the South asserted their regional identity through pride in the institution of slavery, insisting that the federal government should defend their institution. (Page 49)
15. Resistance to initiatives for democracy and inclusion included proslavery arguments, rising xenophobia, antiblack sentiments in political and popular culture, and restrictive anti-Indian policies. (Page 49. Note that the Framework omits both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy. This biased statement reinforces the Framework’s consistently negative portrayal of the American experience.)
16. The U.S. sought dominance over the North American continent through a variety of means, including military actions, judicial decisions, and diplomatic efforts. (Page 52. This is how the Framework describes the Monroe Doctrine and the annexation of Texas.)
17. The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates. (Page 54. Note that generations of American students have been taught that Manifest Destiny expressed America’s mission to spread its democratic institutions and technology across the continent. This revisionist definition clearly expresses the Framework’s negative biases.)
18. States’ rights, nullification, and racist stereotyping provided the foundation for the Southern defense of slavery as a positive good. (Page 56)
19. Lincoln’s election on a free soil platform … Lincoln’s decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. (Page 57. These are the Framework’s sole references to President Lincoln. Note that the Framework omits Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.)
20. Business interests battled conservationists as the latter sought to protect sections of unspoiled wilderness through the establishment of national parks and other conservationist and preservationist measures. (Page 62. Note the one-sided portrayal of “business interests.”)
21. As transcontinental railroads were completed, bringing more settlers west, U.S. military actions, the destruction of the buffalo, the confinement of American Indians to reservations, and assimilationist policies reduced the number of American Indians and threatened native culture and identity. (Page 63. The construction of the transcontinental railroads was a major American achievement. Note that it is portrayed in an entirely negative light.)
22. A number of critics challenged the dominant corporate ethic in the United States and sometimes capitalism itself, offering alternate visions of the good society through utopianism and the Social Gospel. (Page 64. Note the Framework’s consistently negative portrayal of capitalism.)
23. Although the American Expeditionary Force played a relatively limited role in the war… (Page 69. This is how the Framework describes America’s contribution to the Allied cause in World War I.)
24. The mass mobilization of American society to supply troops for the war effort and a workforce on the home front ended the Great Depression and provided opportunities for women and minorities to improve their socioeconomic positions. Wartime experiences, such as the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values. (Page 70. Note that that the Framework’s complete coverage of World War II is contained in these two sentences. The Framework completely omits all mention of American military commanders, battles, and the valor of our servicemen and women who ended the long night of Nazi oppression. Also note that the Framework completely omits the Holocaust.)
25. The United States sought to “contain” Soviet-dominated communism through a variety of measures, including military engagements in Korea and Vietnam. (Page 71. Note that the Framework covers both the Korean War and the Vietnam War in one sentence.)
26. Activists began to question society’s assumptions about gender and to call for social and economic equality for women and for gays and lesbians. (Page 73)
27. Teachers have the flexibility to use examples such as the following: Students for a Democratic Society, Black Panthers. (Page 74. Note that the Framework omits Rosa Parks and Dr. King, but does have room for the SDS and the Black Panthers.)
28. President Ronald Reagan, who initially rejected détente with increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric, later developed a friendly relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, leading to significant arms reductions by both countries. (Page 78. Note that this is the Framework’s simplistic explanation for how and why the Cold War ended.)
29. Demographic changes intensified debates about gender roles, family structures, and racial and national identity. (Page 80. Note that this is the Framework’s concluding statement. The College Board authors then state that teachers have the flexibility to use examples such as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” debate.)
OMITTED SEMINAL DOCUMENTS
- The Mayflower Compact
- The Northwest Ordinance
- Federalist Paper Number 10
- Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day speech at Rochester
- Excerpts from the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and other
- Transcendentalist writers
- Alexis de Tocqueville—excerpts from Democracy in America
- Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address
- Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
- Woodrow Wilson, “Peace Without Victory” speech
- Theodore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism” speech
- Excerpts from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath describing the Dust Bowl
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The Four Freedoms” speech
- Harry S. Truman, “The Truman Doctrine” speech
- George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”
- John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address
- Dr. King, “I Have a Dream” speech and Letter from Birmingham City Jail
- Lyndon B. Johnson, speech to Congress on Voting Rights
6. Will the Open Letter mark the end of the controversy over the APUSH Framework?
The Open Letter authors conclude by hoping that their statement will mark the “end of this controversy.” Unfortunately, their Open Letter fails to fully and forthrightly address central issues raised by the APUSH Framework. A growing chorus of critics justifiably believes that the Framework does not engage students with “the major individuals, developments, and ideas that have guided our nation through its history.” We believe that achieving this goal will require the College Board to restore the previous APUSH course for at least a year. This will give a new and more inclusive committee an opportunity to create a truly balanced APUSH curriculum that reflects America’s guiding principles and traditions.
Image by Joye.