You guys, this country is truly going to the dogs. The Legislative Committee in the Oklahoma House just voted, by a rather astounding margin, to ban Advanced Placement History classes, and, by extension, to consider a ban on the rest of the AP curriculum. Why? Because AP History teaches students "what is bad about America." Much like doctors conceal cancer results to protect their patients from what is bad about their bodies, the Oklahoma legislature is just helping students live happier, fuller lives without the negative influences of facts.
This all started with a repeal of the Common Core, which sets basic standards for language arts and mathematics in K–12 education. It's intended to ensure that students across the U.S. receive a consistent education that not only prepares them for life in general, but for college and university studies, where a base-level of knowledge is helpful for everyone. 44 states use the Common Core, illustrating the fact that nearly everyone is on board with the concept, but not Oklahoma.
The state's lawmakers, you see, believe that the Common Core, along with optional Advanced Placement courses, are designed to "impose a national curriculum on American schools." Well, yes and no. Setting standards allows for consistency in American education, but states and schools can choose to adopt, or not, AP classes on their own. And there's considerable leeway in terms of instruction within the AP context: Robots aren't dispatched to every school offering AP history to provide uniform instruction.
AP courses offer a number of advantages to high school students in the U.S. For one thing, they allow students who quickly progress through other courses to have something to do — which keeps those wild kids off the streets and prevents them from doing wacky things like reading history books in public.
For another thing, taking AP classes allows students to meet certain college graduation requirements, which means less time spent in college, which means less money spent on college. Which is a good thing for low-income students for whom the cost of college is already a significant burden. The ability to access classes that meet college requirements at a free public school is actually pretty great, and something we should be encouraging.
But for Oklahoma, and other conservative states, au contraire. It's not a coincidence that they started with history instead of subjects like math: History specifically involves delving into America's past, including some of its less pleasant aspects. The goal of history courses, of course, is to get students informed, but also to foster critical thinking and evaluation skills. These are good things if you want an educated and knowledgeable public, which is apparently not what the Oklahoma legislature wants.
Here's the seditious and socialist guideline for AP history, which fails to teach important concepts like American exceptionalism. The GOP insists that the current framework "distorts" history and has pushed to make it "more patriotic." The suggested changes read less like true patriotism (a celebration of a country's history, warts and all) and more like ardent nationalism (an insistence that the United States can do no wrong). Unsurprisingly, the push to reform AP history is also accompanied by demands like pushing evolution instruction out of schools because students allegedly shouldn't be subjected to "ideologies."
These proposals are bad news for America. Students across the country deserve the right to learn, and to be fully informed about both the world around them and its history. They need that information so they can make decisions for themselves, and so they can develop the critical thinking skills they need to articulate their beliefs. Attacking AP classes effectively reinforces the idea that some sort of liberal ivory tower elite is tearing at the seams of America and corrupting the youth, when it might be more reasonable to argue that people who insist on denying access to education are doing the real harm here.
The thing is that yes, America does have some bad parts, and some really terrible things have happened in U.S. history. We can't escape the legacies of slavery, of multiple wars, of the myriad abuses this country has perpetrated as a colonial power. These are things we need to openly face and address at the same time that we also evaluate the good in our history — much of which has grown from being self-aware and determined to honestly evaluate past mistakes and work to avoid repeating them. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 wouldn't have passed if we hadn't talked about slavery, for example.
It's okay to face up to the fact that the United States isn't pure as the driven snow (in more ways than one). In fact, it's critically necessary to understanding our past, our future, and how we can do better. GOP-led attacks on the instruction of history and other subjects to our youth suggest a desire to keep the nation trapped in ignorance and the worst parts of our past, not the best parts of our future. Keeping people in the dark in the name of political causes is repulsive, especially when it comes with the agenda of attempting to force people to adopt conservative values because they haven't been exposed to enough information to make their own choices.
Every person in the U.S. should have the opportunity to learn as much as they can about this nation and its legacies so they can make their own decisions about political alignments and beliefs. There are lots of intelligent, sharp, politically-minded Republicans, clearly demonstrating that keeping people ignorant won't force people into conservatism — it'll just keep them ignorant and disadvantaged in a society where the pressure is on when it comes to educational attainment.
People with limited education, including graduates from schools that don't offer comprehensive education, have fewer job opportunities and fewer social chances. Keeping people uninformed is also effectively a sentence to poverty and limited social progress, which is deeply ironic; the GOP wants exceptionalism and bootstrapping embedded into the way we teach history, but it doesn't actually want to give students the bootstraps they could use to pull themselves up.
Maybe it's because the GOP knows there are no bootstraps, only the warm cradle of hereditary wealth and power.