The question of whether high school students should be taught that America’s status is “exceptional” compared with other nations dominated debate Monday over the redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. History course.
Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher and national activist, urged the State Board of Education to demand that the College Board revise the AP U.S. History course because its 70-page framework omits the mention of “American exceptionalism” that was in previous guidelines. Instead of teaching that America is “a force for good in the world” and stands for democracy and freedom, Krieger said, the new course is designed to promote a globalist perspective.
“I call upon the North Carolina Board of Education – an influential board of education – to stand up for America, and call upon the College Board to rectify this situation by revising the framework,” Krieger said.
John Williamson, the College Board’s executive director of AP curriculum, instruction and professional development, said that while exceptionalism isn’t specifically mentioned, the course touches upon it at several points. For example, the guidelines make clear that America emerged as the most powerful nation after World War II, he said.
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The national controversy pits conservative activists who charge that the revamped course promotes an overly negative view of American history against the College Board, a 114-year-old, nonprofit group that administers the Advanced Placement and SAT exams.
Debate goes national
Williamson said he personally believes in American exceptionalism but noted that the goal of AP classes is to replicate a college-level experience, where students are asked to form their own interpretations. Students can take AP exams to receive college credit.
“Exceptionalism may be my belief,” Williamson said. “It may be yours. But it may not be everyone’s. So to set up a curriculum that advocates one particular point of view solely, on any issue really, is not what college courses are doing.”
Monday’s conference-call meeting represents the latest fight in a national debate over the revamped course that was unveiled this fall. The Republican National Committee, the Texas Board of Education and the New Hanover County school board in North Carolina are among the groups who’ve passed resolutions against the changes.
Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education, said he invited Krieger and Williamson to make presentations Monday after getting requests from several board members. Cobey said the state board will resume discussion of the issue Wednesday but has no plans to eliminate a popular course taken annually by 11,000 North Carolina students.
Williamson said the AP U.S. History course was revised because teachers said the old course covered too many themes, forcing them to rush through teaching the nation’s history. He said the new framework offers more flexibility for teachers and state curriculums to focus on specific topics.
Krieger, who started his teaching career in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, charged that the framework’s writers are promoting an agenda that says America is “not an exceptional nation but one nation among many in the global society.” He has written for several national conservative websites and spoken against the College Board’s history changes before boards of education across the nation.
“No one disputes there have been failings and the United States has not always lived up to its ideals,” he said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing that’s wrong about America that can’t be remedied by what’s right about America.”
A call for balance
James Ford, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg history teacher who serves as an adviser to the state board, said exceptionalism is a relative conclusion that depends on the judgment of the person who is interpreting the history.
“American history, just like every other history, is full of some amazing, exceptional accomplishments and triumphs, and also some very unspeakable failures and wrongdoing,” said Ford, who was named the state’s Teacher of the Year in April. “So with that in mind, isn’t a more balanced approach appropriate?”
One of the repeated questions Monday was whether the revised course meets the requirements of the state’s Founding Principles Act. The 2011 state law requires high school students to learn about individual rights, rule of law, equal justice under the law, “Creator-endowed inalienable rights,” and other principles in the American History I course, formerly called U.S. History I.
Students can now take AP U.S. History before taking American History I.
Krieger said that the revised AP course is at odds with state law because the framework omits such state-required, foundational documents as the Magna Carta, the Mayflower Compact and the Federalist Papers. But Williamson said the framework wasn’t meant to cover everything teachers would discuss.
State Rep. Craig Horn, who came to Monday’s meeting, said he’s not reassured that teachers will teach fundamental concepts “of what makes America ‘America.’ ” The Union County Republican said the state’s joint legislative education oversight committee will discuss AP U.S. History on Tuesday.
Williamson said the founding principles are covered in the AP course. But he added that the College Board would not object if the state made American History I a prerequisite.
“It seems to me that without cooperation from the College Board, there is going to be a move in the General Assembly, and I suspect not just in this General Assembly but in general assemblies across the country, to require a history course prior to AP History,” said Horn, who is a vice chair of the House Education Committee.