When the College Board released a revised framework for Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH), it ignited controversy. Conservative critics objected that the standards evinced a fixation with identity politics, a bias against free enterprise, and a clear partisan preference. Liberal defenders accused conservatives of being sloppy readers and knee-jerk reactionaries. All the while, the College Board insisted that it conducted the APUSH rewrite in good faith, is open to criticism and substantive revision, and should be given the benefit of the doubt.
Unfortunately, the College Board is unworthy of that benefit.
High school students in Jefferson County, Colorado made national news in September by staging a walkout to protest an alleged attempt by their school board to censor the new APUSH curriculum. In truth, the board censored nothing. At the same meeting where the Jefferson County school board disgruntled the teachers’ union by implementing a performance pay system, they charged a committee to review APUSH. The board indicated that “review criteria” shall include the following: “Materials should promote citizenship … Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law” and asked for comments “in writing as items are reviewed.”
This local dispute is the stuff of democracy in action. But for some reason the College Board took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement in solidarity with the student protestors. It wasn’t just any old statement—it was one reflective of their revised history framework writ large. It was one that operated on the assumption that authority is bad and civil disorder is good, that progressive reformers have every right to affect nationwide change without democratic input, and that local governments have no right to question them.
Just how egregious was their press statement? Let’s take the first three sentences line by line. First sentence: “The College Board's Advanced Placement Program® supports the actions taken by students in Jefferson County, Colo., to protest a school board member's request to censor aspects of the AP U.S. History course.” This is a bald-faced lie; the resolution did not request to censor anything. Second sentence: “The board member claims that some historical content in the course ‘encouraged or condoned civil disorder, social strife, or disregard for the law.’” You’ll notice that they changed the tense of the document in order to make it fit their false narrative that this was a condemnation rather than a call for inquiry. It’s troubling that the organization tasked with training our best and brightest to be “apprentice historians” has no compunction willfully distorting a source document.
Third sentence: “These students recognize that the social order can—and sometimes must—be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice.” By applauding the students’ action as such a disruption, it’s strongly implied that the College Board views its new history framework as an active effort to promote their social vision of liberty and justice.
Now, the College Board will maintain that their framework doesn’t have political stances. In fact, this month they issued a revised framework to clarify that point. They declare that the framework is “written in a way that does not promote any particular political position or interpretation of history.” If that’s true, then why five sentences later did they further declare that scoring rubrics will award points based on “accurate use of historical evidence, not on whether a student takes the concept outline’s exact position on an issue”? If the framework doesn’t have positions, why do we need to assure students that they don’t need to take the AP’s positions to get a good grade on the exam? Perhaps the AP doth protest too much.