Oklahoma State Rep. Dan Fisher presumably has an array of tough issues to tackle for his state from unemployment to the environment to crime. However, Fisher has decided to take on the ignoble task of banning Advanced Placement history classes in the state because he objects to the inclusion of negative aspects of American history and the omission of material embracing “American exceptionalism.” As an academic, I have previously criticized politicians (here and here and here and here) intervening in our school system to impose their own values or priorities on educators. This however ranks as one of the worst such intrusions that we have seen.
Oklahoma has been one of the states rejecting the Common Core curriculum for K-12 programs. There are valid arguments for states in insisting on control of such curricula as a general matter even if one disagrees with the merits of objections to the common core. However, this is beyond the pale. AP classes are a mainstay of our educational system and allow students to get truly advanced studies in given subjects. I have argued for years that we need to ramp up such courses on civics and history. It is therefore particularly distressing to read Fisher’s bill. It is not only would deprive these students of advanced courses but it would place Oklahoma students at a serious disadvantage in college applications which put great weight on such courses.
Fisher’s primary objection is that the AP history courses, in his view, emphasize the wrongs about America. However, these courses allow students to study not just the triumphs but the mistakes of history so history does not repeat itself. We are not a great nation because we did not commit errors and even crimes in our past. We are a great nation because we overcome such history, recognized our failings, and become a better nation despite such failings. The Trail of Tears, Alien and Sedition Acts, Japanese internment camps, Red Scare and other dark chapters reveal both our succumbing to fears and our transcending them. Part of AP curricula is to train students to read history in a critical and objective way. Converting our history into some Disney tale will teach students little about our country or themselves.
The “exceptionalism” of this country is precisely that we are not perfect but strive to be better.