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By John Aman
High-school history teachers nationwide will give their top students a dark retelling of U.S. history this fall, courtesy of the College Board, a nonprofit college readiness firm led by Common Core architect David Coleman.
The College Board – which administers AP (advanced placement) courses and tests – is rolling out a revised curriculum framework for AP U.S. history, offering the 450,000 students who take AP U.S. history classes a hero-free account of America’s deeply stained past.
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, calls the new AP U.S. history framework “a briefing document on progressive and leftist views of the American past,” one which “weaves together a vaguely Marxist or at least materialist reading of the key events with the whole litany of identity group grievances.”
Conservative author Stanley Kurtz asserts the College Board is “pushing U.S. history as far to the left as it can get away with at the high-school level.”
The new 124-page history curriculum is a dramatic departure from the five-page outline previously supplied by the College Board to guide AP U.S. history instructors. A much more detailed “history from below,” it focuses on how native Indians and Africans suffered at the hands of Europeans in the New World.
Founding Fathers omitted
It deletes the Pilgrims, John Winthrop, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexis de Tocqueville, Abraham Lincoln and other long-celebrated figures central to America’s founding and growth.
In their place, America’s future leaders are given a warts-only take on America’s past that casts European settlers as villains. These Europeans disrupted ecologically balanced native American society, bringing “widespread deadly epidemics,” a “caste system,” resource exploitation and slavery. The Europeans’ “belief in white superiority” was used, the framework declares, “to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians.”
Things got worse with the British. Instead of establishing a “city upon a hill,” as generations of students have been told, they are cast as bigots beholden to a “rigid racial hierarchy,” indicated by their failure to intermarry with native populations or Africans (John Rolfe and Pocahontas, notwithstanding).
The framework gives the father of the country, George Washington, a quick, passing nod, and the founding document, the Declaration of Independence, merits two brief mentions.
Meanwhile, Manifest Destiny was “built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority.” The framework omits black leaders like W.E. DuBois but asserts “prominent racist and nativist theories, along with Supreme Court decisions such as Plessy v. Ferguson, were used to justify violence as well as local and national policies of discrimination and segregation.”
The document’s treatment of the New Deal echoes Democratic Party tributes, asserting that President Franklin Roosevelt’s Depression-era programs used “government power to provide relief to the poor, stimulate recovery, and reform the American economy.”
America’s central role in defeating Nazi Germany and Japan rescued much of the globe from a long night of tyranny, but the frameworks include no mention of the sacrifice of America’s “Greatest Generation.” Instead, the new College Board history curriculum announces that “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.”
Larry Krieger, who has taught U.S. history for 35 years and written numerous widely popular AP and SAT exam prep books, said he reacted with shock and dismay when he read the framework earlier this year.
“It’s relentless left-wing indoctrination,” he said, calling it “antithetical to everything that I believe about teaching and our country’s history.”
Leftist bias, poorly written
“Leaving aside its very leftist bias, it is a very poorly written, unprofessional document,” said Krieger, adding he found it “boring” and “dispiriting.”
It’s also an anonymous document. While the College Board convened two committees composed of 27 college professors and teachers to oversee the new curriculum, the actual author or authors and the process used to produce it are unknown.
The framework is one of 34 AP courses that are being revised under the leadership of College Board president and CEO David Coleman, who arrived at the organization in 2012.
“When they hired David Coleman, the chief architect of Common Core, they effectively politicized the College Board,” Krieger asserted. “The first thing he did was to yoke the SAT to Common Core, and now we’re going to apply Common Core principles to AP courses.”
The College Board denies that Common Core elements have made their way into its new AP U.S. history curriculum, but College Board executive Lawrence Charap indicated otherwise in May. Charap, who leads the College Board’s History and Social Sciences Content Development Group, told a gathering of the Organization of American Historians that his boss, David Coleman, is implementing the Common Core approach in both the AP and SAT exams, according to a report from Mary Graybar, an English professor and Common Core critic who attended the conference.
Formed in 1900, the College Board is a deep-pocketed association of more than 6,000 educational institutions. It took in $759 million in fiscal year 2012 and reported a surplus of $45 million. Funding sources include the federal government, the Gates Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The organization has headquarters in Manhattan and Reston, Virginia, with six regional offices around the nation. It says its mission is to promote “excellence and equity in education.”
Krieger calls the new framework a “curricular coup” that shoves aside state-mandated history guidelines in favor of the new College Board curriculum.
Jane Robbins, an attorney who joined Krieger in a sharp critique of the new curriculum framework published this spring, said the framework is a radical departure from the state history standards they have reviewed.
“I would venture to guess it’s different from all states,” she said.
Krieger and Robbins report that a College Board-commissioned analysis turned up 181 specific elements required in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are missing from the new College Board history curriculum. Another study found that 134 elements required in the Alabama Standards for U.S. History were not in the framework.
The College Board’s new history curriculum for AP students “does commandeer how history is taught,” said Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.
Instead of following state-mandated history guidelines, AP history instructors will “teach to the test” to ensure that students do well on the AP U.S. history exam. Good AP test scores can enable students to skip college history survey courses or jump ahead to take more advanced courses.
Teachers “can’t really focus on state standards,” she explained, “because that is a whole different body of knowledge, in most cases, so the AP course therefore will replace the history standards.”
And the impact of the new curriculum will go beyond AP classes, Robbins said, since most AP history instructors teach other students as well.
“It’s very likely that whatever is taught in the AP class is going to be taught to some extent in the other history classes,” she stated.
“So this is actually a quite effective way of changing what’s taught in history classes all over the country, in both public schools and private schools.”
It’s also being done without much public scrutiny. The College Board posted its new framework on its website in 2012, but for unclear reasons that did not generate much reaction until this spring when Robbins and Krieger published their critique.
The College Board is also keeping its sample AP U.S. history exam for the new framework a tightly guarded secret. The sample test is provided only to certified AP U.S. history teachers who face the loss of the AP teaching credentials – a severe, career-busting consequence – if they disclose test questions.
Teachers around the nation have contacted Krieger to vent their concern, telling him, he said: “I don’t like this. This is wrong. Can you help?”
At the same time, teachers are “very afraid of repercussions for speaking out.” They fear, Krieger said, negative consequences from either the College Board or their local school system.
One teacher who attended a gathering of some 1,000 AP exam “readers” – those who read and evaluate student AP exam essays – told Krieger 90 percent of teachers there either detested the new framework or viewed it with skepticism.
The College Board did not respond to interview requests from WND but claims in the framework document that teachers have “flexibility” to teach relevant history topics outside the prescribed curriculum. However, the framework also emphatically states that the new AP U.S. history exam will be limited to information in the framework.
In boldface and underlined text, the College Board states: “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, no AP U.S. History Exam question will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline.”
Attempt to derail framework
Krieger and Robbins are working to derail the framework’s implementation, alerting parents and legislators about the College Board’s new history. One pivotal battlefront is Texas, where state school board member Ken Mercer wants the College Board to postpone the implementation of the framework in his state for one year. He and another school board member have said they will push for a rule that requires AP classes to conform to Texas history standards.
Texas is one of the College Board’s largest customers. Mercer told WND that some 46,000 Texas high schoolers take AP U.S. history classes, more than 10 percent of the roughly 450,000 students that will be taking the class nationwide this fall. College Board President David Coleman and others executives from the AP firm have spoken with Mercer to allay his concern but Mercer remains opposed to the new framework.
He blasted the new framework as a “rewrite of American history.” “It’s so negative that only America haters like former Illinois professor Bill Ayers would like this.”
Mercer decried the glaring absence of uplifting aspects of the U.S. civil rights struggle, including the Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, the Tuskegee Institute, the Navajo code talkers and the election of Barack Obama.
“If you look at the lessons on civil rights, Martin Luther King is nowhere to be found. How can that be?”
Mercer also charged that the College Board is “usurping the authority of the states’ boards of education and the state legislatures” with the implementation of the new framework.
“I don’t believe there is any elected board in the nation that could pass what they have,” said Mercer. “These are unelected people who don’t have to stand before my constituents, and they’re taking the power away from the state board and state legislature in all 50 legislatures.”
The Texas school board won’t consider a new rule to force AP history instruction to follow state standards until it meets in September, by which time instructors will already be teaching the new curriculum across Texas.
Concerned Texans spoke out against the new AP U.S. history curriculum at a July 18 meeting of the Texas school board. Mary Bowen, a Texas teacher with 30 years of instructional experience told the board, “If parents up and down the neighborhoods knew that this is what would be taught to their children they would be rising up in droves against it.”
‘Not the story of dead, white men’
The College Board’s Debbie Pennington testified as well, assuring the board that the new framework leaves ample room for the state history standards.
“This is designed so state standards can be integrated. It’s not on its own. It’s supposed to work in partnership with you to get what you need.”
Pennington also gave insight into the College Board’s approach to U.S. history, asserting history “can be fuzzy in a lot of different places.”
“You’ve got to remember, this is not the story of dead, white men as taught by almost dead, white men,” she said, citing the words of a mentor. “There were other people there, too, and you’ve got to give room for that flexibility, you’ve got to give room for that flavor and a true understanding of all those issues.”
That view of U.S. history – especially as it is presented in the new AP U.S. history framework – “is designed to create a cynical generation,” Robbins countered.
“Cynicism does not coexist very well with pride in one’s country and the belief that this country can accomplish great things. So, to me, it’s very disturbing. It’s not just that it leaves [students] without some of the factual foundation they need to have but it really does create a different mindset that is going to makes them skeptical of any real belief in the country, that we are exceptional that we have something to offer the rest of the world.”
John Aman is a writer and communications consultant