AP U.S. History rejected by Okla. House Panel

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Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

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Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

On Monday, the Common Education Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill to replace the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework with a course of study that, from the standpoint of a professor of Western Civ., has lots to recommend it. As “the base level of academic content for all United States History courses,” the bill mandates the teaching of such cool “foundational and historical documents” as the Justinian Code (Roman imperial law) and Magna Carta as well as “a complete overview of the “Two Treatises of Government written by John Locke.”

Personally, I think it would be a good idea if the solons of the Oklahoma House of Representatives required themselves to be tested annually on the Justinian Code and Magna Carta and Locke’s two treatises. But truth to tell, they seem more interested in getting the youth of their state to embrace “the representative form of limited government, the free-market economic system and American exceptionalism.” Especially the last of these. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Fisher (R-Yukon), singled out the College Board’s failure to mention that as a particular concern.

In the last presidential campaign, Republican presidential candidates grew so enamored of American Exceptionalism that an argument could be made that it became the GOP’s political religion. I think Fisher’s being a little unfair, however, in accusing the College Board of overlooking it. To account for Key Concept 3.2 (“new experiments with democratic ideas and republican forms of government”), the framework declares: “Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty.” I’d say that goes some way toward explaining American Exceptionalism.

Then, for post-1980 America, there’s Key Concept 9.1: “A new conservatism grew to prominence in U.S. culture and politics, defending traditional social values and rejecting liberal views about the role of government.” After which comes the following explanation: “The rapid and substantial growth of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches and organizations, as well as increased political participation by some of those groups, encouraged significant opposition to liberal social and political trends.” The College Board suggests that students be enlightened on this score by studying the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.

The Common Education Committee wants them to study the Justinian Code and Magna Carta instead. It thinks the College Board’s view of American history is too negative.

  • Larry

    Now conservatives feel the need to be entitled to their own facts!

    So education is only important to Republicans if it can be used as a tool of political indoctrination.

  • Jack

    Larry, all education reflects somebody’s point of view. There is nothing in reality that corresponds to value-free education.

    But the best we can hope for in a pluralistic society is education that includes critiques of the very beliefs it’s promoting.

    The battle between left and right is one about which fundamental beliefs should gain primacy. But whichever side wins in any place, it has a duty to present alternative views, too.

  • Samuel Johnston

    Before the 20th Century the number one reason people learned to read was to be able to read the Bible. Back in the Dark ages, when I attended public school, the Alabama Legislature mandated that all schools teach a separate Alabama History course, and also a course on Communism. At my high school we became so enthusiastic, that we formed an outside of school reading group, and started with The Communist Manifesto. Unsurprisingly, we soon became budding communists. Eventually, we tackled Das Capital, and soon completely bogged down in that massive tome.
    I know nothing about the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework,
    but I suspect it is heavily laced with the academically popular -critique of Western imperialism as morally indefensible (naturally most wars of conquest are morally indefensible). I was stunned a while back when the Smithsonian displayed the Enola Gay, along with an exposition that included racism as a major factor in the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Imperial Japan (instead of Germany?). Lots of us regular Americans were incensed that such questionable accusations should be publicly funded. I take Truman at his word on the matter, and I think such a serious accusation should be a matter of academic consensus, before it should be presented and sponsored by a public institution.
    So the elected representatives of the good people of Oklahoma who fund their public schools are not acting in an unprecedented or unprovoked way by interfering with the decisions of a corporation, over whom they have no management control. Whether it is a wise decision however, is another matter altogether, but if it provokes a discussion of the
    quality and balance found in the courses of study of American History in American schools, that is a good thing.

  • cken

    Any time I read history or an article on history, I remind myself of what Napoleon said, history is the set of lies most of the people agree upon. Check your kids school history text of better yet have their grandparents read them. You will find,be it conservative or liberal, there are facts which are misconstrued and a few complete falsehoods. But then even science texts sometimes aren’t completely accurate.

  • Jack

    Very true, cken. And that’s why we need diversity of viewpoints.

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