Tennessee Republicans Attack APUSH

AP-examTwo Tennessee Republicans, Dolores Gresham and Mike Bell, want the state to review the direction taken with the new AP U.S. History (APUSH) framework and exam. According to the Tennessean, Gresham is arguing that “[t]here are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts. . . . The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history.”

Gresham and Bell appear to be taking their lead from the Republican National Committee, which is up in arms about the changes to APUSH. In particular, its members are upset about the lack of American exceptionalism in the new curriculum, as well as the absence of people and events traditionally a part of U.S. history curriculum. While Gresham and Bell do not, to my knowledge, specifically reference Stanley Kurtz’s piece in National Review, Gresham’s statement echoes Kurtz’s claim that the APUSH change is being pushed by “a movement of left-leaning historians that aims to ‘internationalize’ the teaching of American history. The goal is to ‘end American history as we have known it’ by substituting a more ‘transnational’ narrative for the traditional account.”

Kevin Gannon has provided a thorough critique of the “American exceptionalism” ideal that some APUSH critics have expressed, so there’s no need for me to repeat his cogent arguments. Kurtz’s deconstruction of the new APUSH and the proponents behind the change strikes me as silly. I looked at the new APUSH framework and the sample exam released by College Board, which is responsible for producing APUSH, and failed to see the leftist conspiracy that Kurtz imagines. Is it inclusive? Yes. Does it address the United States’ failures? Yes. Does it also address traditional U.S. history topics? Yes.

So, what’s the problem? Gresham, Bell, Kurtz, and Co. seem to want an APUSH that only acknowledges the positive things about the United States, and they believe that APUSH does the opposite instead. What is striking about the anti-APSUH crowd is that they seem oblivious to the fact that they are pushing an interpretation just as much as their opponents are. Despite Kurtz’s claim that under the previous framework, “[l]iberals, conservatives, and anyone in-between could teach U.S. history their way, and still see their students do well on the AP Test,” they seem to believe that there is only one interpretation of U.S. history: theirs.

There are legitimate differences in the way that we can interpret historical evidence, but liberal, conservative, socialist, or libertarian, the evidence must produce the interpretation, not vice-versa. It appears to me that Republicans are the ones letting their interpretation lead them, not APUSH.

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One Reply to “Tennessee Republicans Attack APUSH”

  1. I am currently exploring the use of inquiry driven pedagogy in higher education history courses. That is the model the new APUSH relies upon. This model changes the way students address content. It really has the students using historical analysis of multiple types of sources and content to make interpretations. I think this is the real problem for the right.

    No longer are students getting force fed a history that bores them and can be used to indoctrinate them. Instead, they get a history that they get to explore and make up their own minds as to what occurred. This model promotes analytical thinking which is the most highly prized skill desired by the business world today. It also exposes the myths of American history for exactly what they are, myths.

    One of those myths is that of American Exceptionalism. Another is the Lost Cause, but that one has been dying for years. I really think the right is frightened because this pedagogical model transfers power to people. It should scare the hell out of both the far left and far right alike because those two ideologies tend to rely on uneducated people for their support. When people possess the ability to think for themselves, the propaganda and myths are exposed for what they are.

    I do not think too many politicians want people to think for themselves. That would not be conducive to election campaigns which tend to rely less on the truth and more about perception. It also will impact religion and the religious right is among those opposing the APUSH. If people can employ analytical thinking, then it is harder to control them or to manipulate them into sending money to certain televangelists who make millions of dollars.

    Yeah, there is a reason why the right wing doesn’t want people to think for themselves.

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