In Oklahoma, learning history is very important to Oklahoma lawmakers; The truth, not quite so important.
Recently, some Oklahoma lawmakers became upset about what is being taught to the best high school U.S. history students in the state. They felt the need to rewrite the curriculum to make sure that it included topics like “American exceptionalism” and speeches by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, while ignoring modern Democratic contemporaries.
Lead by Rep. Dan Fisher, the Oklahoma legislative committee on education voted 11-4 to rewrite the AP United States History courses because the current classes don’t glorify the United States enough. The argument, according to Fisher is that these classes “only teach what is bad about America” and avoid “American exceptionalism.” Fisher felt that the current curriculum was a considerable threat and wrote his bill to immediately become law by declaring that an emergency exists regarding the public peace, health and safety. History classes that aren’t going to follow Fisher’s curriculum would face funding cuts.
Amidst national criticism, Fisher has now pulled the bill because he claims it’s text was poorly worded. His comments in favor of the bill were also poorly worded and probably are responsible for much of the criticism, but Fisher hasn’t come clean on that.
AP history classes are advanced high school classes similar to college level courses. These aren’t the glance over the history book, memorize a few dates, and pass history with a “C” class. These classes can require two hours of homework a night, and a ton of reading. When a course goes beyond the idea that the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and had Thanksgiving with the natives, there usually has to be more depth. That means asking questions and seeking answers. It means looking at American history not as merely a patriotic celebration, but analyzing why slavery existed or the U.S. became mired in Vietnam. The answers aren’t always pretty. AP history means looking at the good and bad, and to make students think more deeply. Unfortunately, for Oklahoma legislators, history isn’t supposed to be that complicated.
Fischer’s bill goes on to list in detail what should be included in an AP U.S. History course. Most of these items, like the Federalist Papers are going to be included by any American history teacher. Although Fischer included speeches by LBJ, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, it lacks any mention of liberal or moderate contributions to American society over the last 50 years.
Recently, AP History courses have become a target for conservative criticism. The claim is that the new College Board requirements are anti-American. Probable Republican Presidential contender Ben Carson even said that students who take the course are ready “to go sign up for ISIS.” The Republican National Committee also claimed that the national standards about American history “deliberately distort” history.
There is hope for the revised bill. Word has leaked out that Fisher’s rewritten bill will not cut AP funding as required in the first draft, but will require a review by the state Board of Education. While this is progress, there remains a cultural divide between social conservatives and the rest of the country over how people should live, including what should be taught to students. This battle in Oklahoma is simply that: A battle in a war. A much larger war over attitudes continues throughout the country. With the desire by some Americans that only positive things about the U.S. should be taught to American students, this is a battle that will appear again and again.