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Rewriting History

Posted by Amy French on
Amy French

The teaching of American history has been in the news lately.  In 2012, leading historians and teachers created a new framework for the Advanced Placement U.S. History course; this framework, which was instituted in fall of 2014, has sparked controversy.

In August of 2014, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution that recommended the delay of the implementation of the enhanced AP US History framework.

Stating that the framework emphasized negativity and that it included "little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation's history, and many other critical topics that have always been a part of the APUSH course."

The resolution encouraged the creation of a committee to draft a new framework, for legislators to investigate the matter, and for Congress to withhold federal funding until the course and examination were rewritten. (Resolution Concerning Advanced Placement U.S. History, Republican National Committee, August 8, 2014)

The enhanced framework encourages the development of four skill types (chronological reasoning, comparison and contextualization, crafting historical arguments from historical evidence, historical interpretation and synthesis) through the exploration of seven broad and inclusive themes.

Within each of the sections are overarching questions and learning outcomes that will require students to learn the traditional historical narrative, as well as explore the complexities of our past. The framework is just that—a structure within which to work. It is not a curriculum, therefore, complaints that it does not cover specific people or subjects are unwarranted.  

As the American Historical Association (AHA) states: "The AHA objects to mischaracterizations of the framework as anti-American, purposefully incomplete, radical, and/or partisan. The 2012 framework reflects the increased focus among history educators in recent years on teaching students to think historically, rather than emphasizing the memorization of facts, names, and dates… The authors of this framework took seriously the obligation of our schools to create actively thinking and engaged citizens, which includes understanding the importance of context, evidence, and chronology to an appreciation of the past."

As a member of the American Historical Association, I stand by their statement of support. (Statement of Support for College Board's Revised Advanced Placement U.S. History Course Framework, American Historical Association, August 20, 2014)

Some have unnecessarily criticized parts of the framework that promote understanding America's place in the world. Our history should not be told without placing the narrative in context. Looking at our nation's role in world history allows students to see how the United States has both influenced and been affected by other nations and their peoples. Our children will live in a global world and we would do them a disservice by showing a unilateral view of our history.

As the AHA found: "Now, more than ever, the cumulative effects of global exchange, engagement, and interdependence make it important that we provide our students with an international perspective on the past. Such a perspective is essential if they are to make sense of the world they confront." (Internationalizing Student Learning Outcomes in History, American Historical Association, September 2005)

Surely, encouraging historical thinking is good. This enhanced framework encourages a more comprehensive understanding of our nation's past; it promotes rigorous learning. James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, asserts that the framework emphasizes "historical thinking as an essential aspect of civic culture."

Knowing our history helps create engaged and informed citizens, which is a fundamental need for our democracy. (James Grossman, "The New History Wars," New York Times, September 1, 2014)

Opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Andy Rapp, Q-TV, Delta College, or PBS.

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