Conservative proposal to censor AP U.S. History curriculum to promote “respect for authority” and “patriotism” removes its emphasis on “race, gender, class, ethnicity” and civil disobedience

By: Daniela Tagtachian, Associate Editor Vol. 20

A recent conservative initiative from South Carolina to Colorado has called for the AP U.S. History curriculum to be more in line with “patriotism” and “respect for authority.” The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution in August 2014 stating that the College Board’s framework for Advanced Placement U.S. History classes reflects a “radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The proposal is to create school board committees tasked with making sure that all U.S. history material “promote[s] citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” as well as making sure to “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” Julie Williams, a conservative and controlling member of Jefferson County, Colorado’s school board, who was partly responsible for designing the proposal, stated that the current AP U.S. History curriculum “rejects the history that has been taught in the country for generations … [and] … has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.”

Fortunately, many students have reacted with protests. In Jefferson County, nearly 1,000 Colorado students have protested the proposal to change the AP U.S. History curriculum. Concerns include the expansion of this proposal. For example, a protesting student in Colorado had a sign that said, “First you take away my history, then you take away my rights.” The president of the Parent Teacher Association of Jefferson County claimed that “allowing an outside committee to make curriculum changes could open the door to a wave of censorship in other subjects.” The executive director of the ACLU of Colorado, Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, has said “[a] committee that polices educational materials for insufficient devotion to patriotism or for lack of respect for authority runs the real danger of substituting propaganda for education.”

What’s really at stake with this proposal?

The fact that the proposal continuously mentions the negative aspects of the country’s nation and civil disorder makes it clear that the real interest is to curb the teaching of the civil rights movement, slavery and probably the early interactions with the Native Americans. At the very least, the goal is to teach these topics with a positive slant. At the most, the goal is to remove these topics from the curriculum. There is also an undertone that teaching civil disobedience will promote anarchy and anti-American sentiments. The AP U.S. History curriculum has taught hundreds of thousands of Americans in the past – has it led to widespread anarchy and anti-American sentiments? Obviously not. Patriotism and a clear understanding of all aspects of this nation’s history are not mutually exclusive.

Schools must teach the full history of the country because it is so deeply connected to America’s identity. Not only does the plight of minorities goes back to the creation of the country but many resolutions taken reemphasize American values.  For example, the civil rights movement teaches students that one should fight to stop unjust laws. Part of being a good citizen is that one not standing idly by while injustice is running rampant. This is an American value that should be taught to students. If the conservative proposal was in place, schools would be seeking to produce blindly patriotic Americans.

What’s more, it’s likely the same Americans would find out about America’s past through the Internet, books, articles, etc., leaving them gravely disappointed with and disillusioned in their country, which would cause them to develop anti-American sentiments or to demand that this past be taught in class. Backers of the proposal already have a significant backlash on their hands. As one high school senior told The Denver Post “If they don’t teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves.”

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