Not OK: Is America’s past too bleak for Oklahoma?

Last year, more than 460,000 students took the AP United States History exam in the U.S., but new course standards introduced by the College Board have led to Oklahoma legislators to propose a ban on the course.

According to Carmel High APUSH teacher Marc Stafford, the College Board has changed the emphasis of the curriculum from content knowledge to conceptual understanding.

In response to these changes, Republican Rep. Dan Fisher has proposed a bill in the Oklahoma legislature which would block state funding for costs related to APUSH classes, according to the Tulsa World. Fisher claims that the new curriculum ignores “American exceptionalism,” and focuses too much on the negative aspects of American history.

However, Stafford feels that the shameful elements of America’s past have become a significant part of our national identity, something that can’t just be ignored.

Fellow APUSH teacher Aubrey Powers suggests that legislators are uneducated about the changes to the course, such as the incorporation of secondary sources.

“[The course] is asking for students to be aware of historians, not necessarily by name, but understanding what their perspective is and understanding their point of view,” Powers says.

Stafford agrees that legislators might not be fully grasping the rationale behind the incorporation of secondary sources. He explains, “I think [the bill] is evidence that legislators don’t understand that students are capable of critical thinking…and understanding that history is a nuanced process.”

Unsurprisingly, Oklahoma is not alone in its objection to the AP exam. Criticism has also been heard in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. One notorious critic, Dr. Ben Carson, even proclaimed that students who finish the course must be ready to “sign up for ISIS.”

Nonetheless, Stafford does not think that the course is meant to dishearten students about their country’s mixed past. Instead, it is a step on the way to making America a better place.

“Most people that get into teaching history…want to move forward and be better, and that requires acknowledging past successes and past failures,” Stafford says.

The Oklahoma House Common Education Committee voted 11-4 in support of the bill. However, due to criticism, Rep. Fisher has stated that his bill was “poorly worded” and promised to rewrite it.
-Delaney King