ON-Lion Letter

Last Winter, the College Board released AP United States History:  Course and Exam Description, Including the Curriculum Framework, Effective Fall 2014, which represents a complete overhaul of the Advanced Placement course in U.S. History for high-school students and the AP U.S. History exam that is keyed to the course.  Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) in New York City, recently wrote a preliminary report on the overhaul.

"Because Advanced Placement courses and exams play a very significant role in American higher education, I decided as president of the National Association of Scholars to take a close look at the new course, exam, and 'curriculum framework,'" Woods writes.  "My colleagues and I at NAS are concerned about the quality of preparation for college that American high school students receive; we are especially concerned about the preparation received by students who attend the nation’s best-regarded colleges and universities; and we have a particular interest in the standards set in the study of U.S. History, which is one of the foundations for American citizenship."

"The newest revision," according to Woods, "is radical.  The College Board has thrown away its old five-page topical outline for the course and replaced it with an 80-page analytic exposition of the course and a 40-page exposition of the exam with each question keyed to 'learning objectives,' 'historical thinking skills,' and 'key concepts' in the course.  Lack of thoroughness is not among its faults.

"The College Board’s statement mentions three of seven 'themes' in the course.  Interestingly, all three -- identity, peopling, and America in the world -- come out of the identity studies side of contemporary history," Woods continues.  "These are sufficiently broad as to allow an inventive teacher to insert almost anything, but the list is not especially hospitable to teaching about military history, Constitutional history, or religious history."

In fact, "If we had to infer the course from the questions on the final exam, it would be pretty clear that the College Board has turned AP U.S. History into a briefing document on progressive and leftist views of the American past.  It is something that weaves together a vaguely Marxist or at least materialist reading of the key events with the whole litany of identity group grievances.

"More needs to be done to assess the intellectual quality" of the overhaul, Woods concludes.  "The effort to make that assessment will itself help to clarify the standards that ought to apply to the teaching of American history in advanced high school courses and in colleges.

"One preliminary verdict:  it may be time to start thinking beyond the College Board as a fair-minded and independent arbiter of academic standards."

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee supports NAS.

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