Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Can you rewrite history? Apparently in Colorado they are going to give it their best shot. In Golden, Colorado the school board is taking issue with the College Board's revision of the United States History Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum. Conservatives in this Denver suburb claim that the new curriculum paints America's history is a darker and more negative light than before and therefore doesn't highlight America's "exceptionalism". According to one school board member, a new subcommittee is being set up to assure that history courses taught in this solidly middle class suburb "present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage and promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system".  She further noted that "materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder or social strife". (The complete Washington Post article can be found here). Um...because America was founded on the principles of love and peace, right?

But Colorado isn't the only state that is looking at the way our country's history is being taught. Texas is already on record for opposing the teaching of the new AP curriculum in their schools and South Carolina and Tennessee are contemplating following suit. Opponents of the new curriculum claim it teaches a revisionist history of our country and one mother, a college history major herself, opposes the curriculum on the grounds that it was reviewed and approved by college history professors who "by and large, are on the left". The recurring theme that opponents keep returning to is the fact that students are not being taught about their "exceptionalism". Their message seems to be that if students aren't taught that they and their country are great, then they aren't learning the important parts of their history. I have so many thoughts on this.... Perhaps students should be able to infer this for themselves rather than being told. And greatness is all in a perspective; what made one act seem great was undoubtedly at the expense of someone or something else. Does it benefit someone from a Native American heritage to sit in a class and be told that his people were "bad" while the white settlers were "good". And then there is the phrase of "exceptionalism" itself. That seems to be the catch phrase that is applied to a whole generation of children yet if everyone is branded as exceptional, what does that really mean?

On the other side of the argument are many students and educators who will be affected by the changes. They are taking to the streets and protesting the school board's actions---thus creating the civil unrest the board so wants to stifle. And then there is the American Historical Association who endorses the new curriculum for the very challenging students and teaching them a broader perspective of our history. James Grossman, chief executive of the association says it best with teaching history is a choice "between a more comfortable national history and a more unsettling one. There's always pressure to use history to unite a people, to create a comfortable sense of yourselves." We all do it.  Really, it is so much nicer to be in our comfort zone and feel good about ourselves, our personal stories and our history. But it this reality?

I was an American history major in college. I attended an elite, undoubtedly liberal, East Coast college where I shared classroom space with women from all socio-economic and political backgrounds, haling from every state in the country as well as countries spanning the globe. My classes were taught but highly educated professors who taught us the good and bad, the pretty and yes, the ugly of our country's history. We were challenged to always think about what we were reading and hearing from varying perspectives and to never accept anything as fact without questioning it.

And do you know what I learned? I learned that history is rarely pretty; sure it can be glossed over but in doing so, the important lessons of our past are lost. And in losing our past we are forgetting the important lessons that shaped our country into what it is today. Twenty years later I still clearly remember something my favorite history professor said. On the cusp of our graduation he told us that those who forget or ignore their history are doomed to repeat it. Think about that. Is that the direction we want our proud country to move towards?


  1. this is so interesting! You know what I found being a Brit in a US school for a term, history was totally different! I have spoke with others who where taught a totally different "history" you would think there was just 1 history with facts ay?

  2. Doesn't AP stand for Advanced Placement? So theoretically these are students that are expected to do deeper level thinking. After completion of the course, students then take a test to obtain college credit? So, how are they supposed to pass the test if they don't learn the entire curriculum?

    I just don't get it.