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Conservatives Win Another Round in the History Wars

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Shining_City_Upon_Hill-American-Exceptionalism

Given that ETS is a greedy corporation (don’t let the non-profit College Board confuse you, it’s technically a client of ETS but ETS is who runs the test operation) that has a facade of academic professionalism over a core of profit-making, it’s hardly surprising it would cave to conservatives over the new AP U.S. History standards:

Some of the main criticisms of the guidelines, conservatives voiced, were less emphasis on the founding fathers and more emphasis on slavery. The guidelines also included earlier American history that included violence against Native Americans and mentioned the growing influence of social conservatives. There were also complaints that World War II was not emphasized enough, but military victories will be given more attention in the new standards. Mentions of slavery will be “roughly the same” as previous standards, according to Newsweek.

Conservatives also took issue with the framework’s description of the term “manifest destiny.” The definition, according to The Daily Caller:

The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was based on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates.

AP American history courses in particular became a political battleground when the College Board released new guidelines in October 2012. According to Talking Points Memo, the public controversy started with Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher. Then The Republican National Committee noticed Krieger’s remarks and campaigned against the new framework. The RNC asked Congress to stop funding the College Board, saying it “emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

After the issue picked up momentum, more and more state legislators got involved in decrying the new guidelines. An Oklahoma legislative committee voted to ban AP history class and Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) introduced legislation “prohibiting the expenditure of funds on the Advanced Placement United States History course.” In Colorado, students protested the new standards and soon after, the Jefferson County school board cancelled a review of the standards.

In September of last year, Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who is now running for president, said “most people” who take the course would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”

With the potential for states to opt out, there was no way these standards would continue. ETS/College Board have pushed for years for the AP test to become something closer to a universal test (often leading to a huge waste of money as students who have no business taking the test are forced to do so; trust me, I graded these exams for 3 years). Even this year, the test responded to initial criticism by being a conservative talking point, with the Document-Based Question being about the rise of conservatism that according to my friends grading the exam encouraged test takers to talk about how government is terrible and does nothing right. Now the standards will revert to right-wing ideas of American exceptionalism. This is a bad thing. It also shows once again how much interpretation of history matters and why issues like the Confederate flag are so important. Historical interpretation is a war between liberals and conservatives. And conservatives usually win the institutional side of that war.

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