Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, in Arvada, Colo. The students are protesting a proposal by the Jefferson County School Board to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history
Brennan Linsley/AP

Controversy over history curriculum goes national

In mid-August, it seemed as if the controversy popped up out of the blue. Members of the Republican National Committee gathered for a regularly scheduled meeting, but instead of the expected election-year efforts, RNC members voted to condemn Advanced Placement U.S. History classes for presenting a “consistently negative view of American history.”
 
By way of an example, the RNC said the AP curriculum portrays early U.S. colonists as “oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country.” Republicans said they want the classes to put a more deliberately patriotic spin on history.
 
As culture-war issues go, this one was barely on anyone’s radar, though Right Wing Watch explained that the RNC’s interest wasn’t a fluke: activists in the religious right movement, most notably groups like the Eagle Forum and Concerned Women for America, have been steadily pushing the issue for a while.
 
It seems the Republican National Committee’s interest had its intended purpose: the story went national. GOP lawmakers in Tennessee immediately took a keen interest in AP history classes, and soon after, Republicans in Texas followed suit. Conservative media piled on, with National Review calling AP history “an attempt to hijack the teaching of U.S. history on behalf of a leftist political and ideological perspective.”
 
This week, it’s contributed to an especially contentious fight in Colorado.
A new conservative school board majority here in the Denver suburbs recently proposed a curriculum-review committee to promote patriotism, respect for authority and free enterprise and to guard against educational materials that “encourage or condone civil disorder.” In response, hundreds of students, teachers and parents gave the board their own lesson in civil disobedience.
 
On Tuesday, hundreds of students from high schools across the Jefferson County school district, the second largest in Colorado, streamed out of school and along busy thoroughfares, waving signs and championing the value of learning about the fractious and tumultuous chapters of American history.
The dispute in Colorado is multi-faceted, but as the New York Times’ report noted, the ongoing controversy stems from a proposed review committee that would be tasked with – you guessed it – “evaluating Advanced Placement United States history.”
 
The protests in the Rocky Mountain State reached a fourth day yesterday. Meanwhile, the religious right’s interest in the issue continues, with Family Research Council President Tony Perkins arguing last week that the AP exams teach “anti-Americanism” and contribute to “a jihad in the classroom.”
 
Seriously, that’s what he said.
 
For his part, James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, wrote an op-ed recently trying to explain the basics of historical analysis to the classes’ conservative critics.
Like the college courses the test is supposed to mirror, the A.P. course calls for a dialogue with the past – learning how to ask historical questions, interpret documents and reflect both appreciatively and critically on history.
 
Navigating the tension between patriotic inspiration and historical thinking, between respectful veneration and critical engagement, is an especially difficult task…. Disagreement is not a bad thing. But learning history means engaging with aspects of the past that are troubling, as well as those that are heroic.
That’s well said, though one gets the sense the right doesn’t want to hear it.
 

Colorado, Education Policy and Religious Right

Controversy over history curriculum goes national