The first national salvo in the fight caught many off guard. Exactly one year ago next week, members of the Republican National Committee gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting, and took up a fairly obscure resolution: RNC activists voted to condemn Advanced Placement U.S. History classes for presenting a “consistently negative view of American history.”
Perhaps the vote shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise – in far-right circles, the complaints about AP history courses have been loud and frequent. By one count, Republican officials in as many as six states “attempted to crudely politicize our past” by going after the curriculum. In Oklahoma, some lawmakers voted to ban the class altogether.
It was a new, rather odd front in the larger culture war. At one point, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson went so far as to argue that the Advanced Placement course might encourage young Americans to “sign up for ISIS.”
With rhetoric like that, it’s tempting to think the campaign against AP History burned itself out, becoming too ridiculous for its own good. But as it turns out, the opposite happened – Vox’s Libby Nelson explained yesterday that the right’s attacks had their intended effect.
Now, after nearly a year of uproar, the College Board, the group that writes the AP exam, has made major changes to the framework – and it’s won conservatives over, in part by putting less emphasis on racism.The earlier frameworks, before the 2014 version, had been a long list of events in American history. The goal of last year’s framework was to replace that with a more coherent, specific narrative of American history, framed by a few central questions. The new version has abandoned part of that sweeping narrative, getting more specific in some areas and toning down some of its most stark historical judgments.
The new version is nicer to Ronald Reagan, to the delight of GOP partisans, but even more important is the way in which AP History will explore the issue of race.
Newsweek published a good report on this last week:
Though the number of mentions of the word “slavery” remains roughly the same, the new document significantly alters the original framework’s tone around slavery, racism, and Native American relations.Passages that previously cited racial attitudes, stereotyping, and white superiority in early American history have been rewritten or deleted, and some passages that previously implicated early European colonists in racism and aiding in destructive Native American warfare have been softened and replaced with more passive language.
As if that weren’t quite enough, the history of the New Deal also received a touch-up. Whereas the old document read, “Although the New Deal did not completely overcome the Depression, it left a legacy of reforms and agencies that endeavored to make society and individuals more secure,” the new version says, “Although the New Deal did not end the Depression, it left a legacy of reforms and regulatory agencies.”
It was disappointing to see the right go after American history with such zeal last year, but it’s vastly worse now that conservatives have produced the changes they sought.