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AP History survives funding cut in Oklahoma. Here's why. (+video)

Responding to uproar, a conservative Oklahoma lawmaker backs off bill to curb funding for AP history that he says downplays American 'exceptionalism.' The bill 'was very poorly worded,' he said.

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Responding to a wave of public pressure, a conservative lawmaker in Oklahoma has backed off a bill that threatened to cut funding for Advanced Placement US History courses, unless they were revised to reflect the concept of “American exceptionalism.”

“It was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous…. We’re going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s not to hurt AP,” Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) told The Oklahoman Wednesday. The new bill will simply ask the state education board to review AP history, The Oklahoman reports.

House Bill 1380 passed out of committee earlier this week, with no Democratic votes. Representative Fisher and other supporters objected to the recently revised framework for AP US history by the College Board, which administers related exams so high school students can earn college credit.

“The redesign … trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of constitutional government in favor of robust analysis of gender, racial oppression, class, ethnicity, and the lives of marginalized people,” Fisher said during the committee meeting. “The emphasis is on America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters. Certainly we all know ... we have our blemishes, but we don’t want only our blemishes taught.”

Such battles over how US history should be taught – and how much emphasis should be placed on the country’s role as a model for liberty, democracy, and a free-market economy – have been playing out for several decades.

Last year, the Republican National Committee condemned the new AP US History framework as “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

The Texas state board of education objected to the AP US History framework and emphasized that teachers of the course must also follow state standards. Students in Jefferson County, Colo., walked out of classes in the fall, successfully opposing an attempt by conservative members of the school board to review and revise AP US history.

Backers of the Oklahoma bill said they worried it would supplant state history standards with a skewed attempt at a national curriculum – an objection that conservatives also commonly lob at the Common Core State Standards, which many states have voluntarily adopted.

HB 1380 enumerated several categories and more than 50 documents that should form the basis for US history classes, including:

  • The US Constitution
  • The Ten Commandments
  • The sermon known as "A Model of Christian Charity" by John Winthrop
  • The document known as the "Declaration of Sentiments" by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  • The Decision to Go to the Moon speech made by John F. Kennedy
  • The letter "Letter from Birmingham Jail," written by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Address to the Nation speech made by George W. Bush on Sept.11, 2001

On social media and in calls to legislators’ offices, students, educators, and other concerned citizens laid out their objections to the possibility that students might lose the opportunity to earn college credits. They also defended the AP courses as offering a balanced understanding of US history.

“We all love our AP classes, and depend on them to challenge us, prepare us, and ultimately, provide us with the chance to excel and gain college credit,” wrote high school student Moin Nadeem in a petition he placed on Change.org that has since received more than 16,000 online signatures.

One post to the petition, by someone identifying himself as both a conservative and an AP US history teacher in Broken Arrow, Okla., said he was appalled by the bill: “The framework is a barebones ‘map’ of topics that are to be covered; however, the teacher has the opportunity (and fails to do their job correctly if they do not take the opportunity) to add to the framework … with the state standards for US History…. Keep the government out of my classroom!”

Supporters of the new AP framework say it’s inaccurate to say the framework overemphasizes negative aspects of American history, and that teachers do use many of the documents listed in the bill.

The framework is about teaching kids to see complexity and draw their own conclusions,” says Fritz Fischer, a history professor at the University of Colorado and author of “The Memory Hole: The U.S. History Curriculum Under Siege.”

The problem with people pushing “American exceptionalism” in the curriculum, Professor Fischer says, is that they want to teach “that America was always right.… They believe the US is the best country now and therefore it has always been the best country.”

Fischer agrees there are many examples of shining moments for the nation, but worries that some backers of exceptionalism don’t want students to be exposed to anything negative. Some have objected to letting students know about some founders of the country being slaveholders, while others have said America’s expansion westward can only be called expansionism, not imperialism.

“It’s much too simplistic for the classroom, where you want to teach critical thinking,” he says.

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