AP U.S. history course now more balanced

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Last year, the College Board’s 2014 Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework ignited a political firestorm. The College Board staunchly defended the framework, accusing critics of showing “a blatant disregard for the facts.” Now, however, the organization has reversed course and revised its flawed 2014 approach.

The concerns raised by critics of the 2014 APUSH framework were numerous: It did not explicitly include important figures like Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr. (though it should be noted that older frameworks also excluded these individuals), glossed over the powerful effects of our nation’s founding documents on American identity and institutions, overemphasized the negative aspects of American history, and lionized progressive leaders like Lyndon Johnson while marginalizing conservatives like Ronald Reagan.

A letter signed by dozens of experts explained that the College Board framework “shortchanges students by imposing on them an arid, fragmentary, and misleading account of American history.” State legislators across the nation introduced bills to address problems with the framework.

Meanwhile, the College Board contended that the “framework” design of APUSH excused the exclusion of specific individuals and concepts like American exceptionalism. The organization insisted the framework was thorough and approved by experts in the field.

APUSH supporters agreed, loudly proclaiming that any attempt to modify the 2014 APUSH framework amounted to historical revisionism. In Colorado, student protests followed accusations that the Jefferson County Board of Education attempted to censor history by proposing the creation of a curriculum review committee. The committee would have potentially examined, among many other curricula, the APUSH framework. The College Board joined in, supporting students’ battle against “censorship.”

The 2014 APUSH framework was held up as the pinnacle of accuracy and fairness in American history, a true version of the American story unafraid of confronting our nation’s blemishes. Any attempt to question that interpretation was met with withering criticism. The College Board threatened to pull Advanced Placement designation if the framework was modified, and the charge of censorship is prominently featured on petitions to recall three members of the Jefferson County school board.

Yet after all the threats, rhetoric, and politics, it appears the College Board has changed its mind.

A new, heavily revised version of the framework was released last week. The new framework includes specific mention of our nation’s Founding Fathers and other crucial figures, as well as explicit reference to American exceptionalism, constitutionalism, and the important ways in which individualism and the concept of freedom have shaped our national identity.

As critics had requested, the College Board now frames critical moments in our history like World War II as more than footnotes in a discussion about contemporary identity politics. It portrays both progressive and conservative leaders on the basis of their beliefs, placing neither on pedestals.

Most importantly, the new APUSH framework does all these things without whitewashing history or ignoring the painful dark spots in America’s past. It simply tells America’s story—the full story—without wedging the entirety of our history into the box of modern progressive ideology.

The new framework has been enthusiastically greeted by experts as being greatly improved. The College Board itself calls the new 2015 APUSH “a clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history”—a tacit admission that the previous framework was slanted and muddy.

This year, thousands of students will take an Advanced Placement U.S. History course that empowers them to study the American story fully and honestly instead of viewing it through a predetermined lens. No censorship was required, only thoughtful review and the inclusion of diverse points of view.

Even so, accusations of censorship against the Jeffco board and other critics linger. Given recent changes to APUSH, however, perhaps the most appropriate question to ask is who was censoring whom.

This column originally appeared in the Denver Post on August 7, 2015.