College Board Still Hiding Behind Its Revisionist American History

Published August 29, 2014

In a famous scene in the Wizard of Oz, the little dog Toto unexpectedly pulls back a curtain hiding the “great and powerful” wizard. Stunned by his discovery, the wizard initially warns Dorothy and her friends to “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” But Dorothy is not fooled, and accuses Oz of being “a humbug.”

The College Board and the nine high school teachers and college professors who wrote its redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework have been behaving much like the Wizard of Oz. They have claimed to be so great and powerful they can unilaterally supersede state U.S. history standards. When critics objected, the College Board, like Oz, imperiously dismissed them, saying, in effect, “Go away and come back tomorrow.”

The critics have not been so easily dismissed. In a dramatic development, noted columnist Stanley Kurtz has published an article that pulls back the curtain hiding the history and purpose of the new APUSH Framework. Kurtz provides overwhelming evidence that the new Framework is not, as its defenders claim, “a balanced document,” but rather a carefully crafted polemic that is intended to “internationalize the teaching of American history” and “effectively force American high schools to teach U.S. history from a leftist perspective.”

Critics have repeatedly noted that the Framework omits a lengthy list of key American heroes such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Dr. Martin King Jr., and seminal expressions of the American creed such as John Winthrop’s “City Upon a Hill” sermon and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. But the College Board has obstinately refused to make any changes. Now, thanks to the overwhelming evidence in Kurtz’s essay, we know why.

Chronicle of Denial
Caught off guard by intense public reaction against its leftist APUSH Framework, the College Board has offered various defenses. In so doing, it has been unconstrained by consistency, and its two primary defenses actually contradict one another. However, Kurtz’s research establishes which of these contradictory positions is closer to the truth—and citizens who appreciate their nation’s history are likely to be even more alarmed.

At the outset of the controversy, the College Board simply denied that the new APUSH Framework usurps state history standards. APUSH teachers, the College Board claimed, would of course still teach state standards, as they had always done—the state standards would fill the gaps that would necessarily exist in the 98-page Framework.

But this defense was refuted by APUSH’s structure, old and new. For at least the last 20 years, APUSH has been governed by a five-page Topic Outline that clearly relied on state standards to fill the content. The new Framework is almost 20 times as long and filled with detail that is obviously designed to replace state standards in the covered areas. Indeed, the new Framework explicitly states that the document contains “the required knowledge for each period” and that “no AP U. S. History Exam questions will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline.” The message is crystal clear: students are expected to learn only the highly selective content within the Framework’s 98 pages.

So this flimsy defense didn’t work. The College Board has now embraced a contradictory argument which admits APUSH will liberate teachers and students from state history standards. Lawrence Charap, the Board’s director of AP curriculum, recently wrote about the supposed goals of the APUSH program: to reproduce a college course that focuses less on factual knowledge (such as that mandated by state standards) and more on “historical thinking skills,” and to increase teachers’ flexibility to teach what they want, as college teachers do, even though “they often find themselves constrained by state standards…”

Bowing to the Global Community
If they are now expected to learn far fewer facts from state standards, what should the half a million APUSH students every year be thinking about with their new historical thinking skills? Isn’t a basic understanding of the American story essential? This is where Kurtz’s new research is both enlightening and disturbing. Kurtz explains how Framework authors led by Ted Dickson and guided by Charap advocate a school of historical thought that “wants to subordinate American identity to a cosmopolitan, ‘transnational’ sensibility.”

Kurtz identifies New York University historian Thomas Bender as the leading spokesman for this school of thought. Bender, according to Kurtz, “urges that American history be taught, not only from an American point of view, but from the perspective of those who are subject to American power.” In other words, American students should learn to see their country not as a “shining city on a hill” but as one among many, and not a very admirable one at that.

As explains by Kurtz, Bender and his allies were ultimately able to influence the College Board to incorporate this anti-American-exceptionalism perspective into the redesigned APUSH Framework. And they were very successful. The new Framework deliberately omits all mention of American exceptionalism and instead replaces it with a dreary litany of American faults, missteps, and shortcomings. The “shining city on the hill” is not a beacon of hope and freedom but instead what the Framework calls an expansionist power built on “a belief in white racial superiority.”

Kurtz’s research reveals the philosophical foundation of the College Board’s new APUSH course. It is one that should deeply disturb parents and officials who want students to learn real American history, not political nonsense. While the Wizard of Oz ultimately admitted he was an imposter, the College Board has so far obstinately refused to change one word of its agenda-pushing APUSH Framework.

The time has come for public and school officials to say humbug to the College Board’s now-discredited talking points. The College Board may be a private company, but it is not beyond the reach of an outraged public.

Image by Jim Bowen.