Oklahoma Lawmaker to Rework AP History Bill

Published March 11, 2015

Oklahoma legislators are reworking a bill which would grant authority to the State Board of Education to replace national Advanced Placement history curriculum and testing.

HB 1380 was introduced by Rep. Dan Fisher (R-El Reno). Fisher pulled the bill on February 17 after it passed the House Education Committee.

The bill drew national attention after Fisher described current AP history courses as negatively characterizing the United States as a “nation of oppressors and exploiters.” Some educators and journalists concluded Fisher was seeking to do away with AP history courses because the original draft of the bill included phrasing placing certain conditions on funding for AP history classes. Regarding “financial incentives awarded to schools under the Oklahoma Advanced Placement Incentive Program,” the bill prohibited “the awarding of grants or expenditure of money for any Advanced Placement United States History course until certain conditions are met.”

In light of the controversy, Fisher said the first draft of the bill was ambiguous and needed rewriting, Reuters reported on February 19.

Called for State-Drafted Curriculum

HB 1380 recommended a state-drafted curriculum including speeches delivered by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and the 10 Commandments. It also recommended excerpts from the following: John Steinbeck’s anti-capitalist novel set during the Great Depression; The Grapes of Wrath; the “Bullet or Ballot” speech of Malcolm X; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail;” and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society” and “The American Promise” speeches.

Reagan and Bush delivered their addresses, respectively, at the Brandenburg Gate and after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The 10 Commandments were one component in a lesson on the development of the rule of law, which also included the Magna Carta and John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government.”

Also included in the proposed curriculum were two speeches by President John F. Kennedy—his inaugural address and the “Decision to Go to the Moon” speech—and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” and “Four Freedoms” speeches. The curriculum also included “The Atlanta Compromise” speech of Booker T. Washington, Emma Lazarus’ poem “The New Colossus,” William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, and excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.

Despite the inclusion of this wide variety of documents and additional material from the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Monroe Doctrine, Frederick Douglass, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, some opinion writers such as the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell depicted Fisher’s bill as “trying to ban the teaching of U.S. history.”

‘Empower Parents’

The cost of implementing HB 1380 had it passed in its original form was projected at $3.8 million. Similar measures are being considered in Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.  

Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a think tank based in Oklahoma City, said the controversy over AP history is not surprising.

“We’re often told that public education is ‘the cornerstone of a democratic society,’ as the Oklahoma Education Association puts it, and that public education brings together people of disparate backgrounds and helps create social harmony,” said Dutcher. “Oklahoma’s current dust-up over AP history reminds us that’s just not the case. Whether the conflicts are over history or phonics or evolution or sex education or whatever, we continue to see these fights in which the government picks winners and losers.”

Dutcher said the AP history controversy proves the need to provide options for parents and students.

“It’s time to end the fighting,” said Dutcher. “Parents, not government officials, have the moral right to determine a child’s path. Let’s empower parents with vouchers or tax breaks or education savings accounts. Allow parents to choose an education that’s consistent with their values and their educational philosophy.”

Bruce Edward Walker ([email protected]) is an information technology and telecommunications policy advisor for The Heartland Institute.

Image by flickr./com/photos/amanda_munoz.


Learn More:

Heide Brandes, “Oklahoma lawmaker to rewrite bill on state’s AP U.S. history funding,” reuters.com, February 19, 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/19/us-usa-oklahoma-education-idUSKBN0LN20C20150219

Rick Green and Tom Willert, “Oklahoma Lawmaker Reworking Advanced Placement Bill Says He Supports Program,” The Oklahoman, Feb. 18, 2015: http://newsok.com/oklahoma-lawmaker-reworking-advanced-placement-bill-says-he-supports-ap-program/article/5394536

Catherine Rampell, “The Bizarre War Against AP U.S. History Courses,” The Washington Post, Feb. 19, 2015: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-unflattering-history-lesson/2015/02/19/3be9cb0c-b878-11e4-a200-c008a01a6692_story.html

“Oklahoma House Bill 1380,” Rep. Dan Fisher, Feb. 2, 2015: http://www.oklegislature.gov/BillInfo.aspx?Bill=hb1380