I’ve been following the story out of Colorado surrounding the Board of Education’s concerns about the revised AP United States History curriculum. Earlier today and following protests by both teachers and students the board backed off from any plans to challenge the curriculum in the classroom. From the beginning it was clear that the position of the board had little to do with history education, but, rather, a perception that the revised curriculum does not deliver a narrative that frames our history around the concept of American Exceptionalism. As I suggested before, it is likely that most of the critics of the new curriculum have not read it or even the version of the course it supplants.
The question of whether our past ought to be taught around such an interpretive framework concerned me less than what I knew lay just behind these suggestions, which I suspected to be a deficient understanding of the history itself. Thankfully, board member, Pam Mazanec, has confirmed my worst fears. Here is her understanding of the end of slavery.
As an example, I note our slavery history. Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today! Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint? This is part of the argument that America is exceptional. Does our APUSH Framework support or denigrate that position?
It’s not simply that this elected official doesn’t understand basic American history, but that it reveals the incoherence of the concept of American Exceptionalism. For many Americans before the Civil War slavery was the sine qua non of America’s greatness. It created immense amounts of wealth, helped to push the nation on its inevitable course west, and framed the very idea of freedom for many white Americans.
Hopefully, the good people of Colorado will vote these bums out of office before they decide to challenge the curriculum of another subject that they know nothing about.