One of the major grievances against the right-wing Jefferson County school board majority driving the recall election now underway was an abortive proposal last fall by board member Julie Williams to set up a board-appointed “review” of recently revised AP U.S. History curriculum. Readers will recall the specific language of Williams’ proposal, which touched off huge student protests in Jefferson County:
Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. [Pols emphasis] Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.
After the protests against Williams’ proposal became literally international news, the Jeffco board quietly shelved the idea, announcing through their contracted public relations staff a few months later that the proposal was dead. Politically, it was a huge disaster for the board and their Republican backers in Jefferson County, dramatically raising the profile of the conflict over the school district’s new direction since conservative board candidates rode opposition to a failed tax increase measure to victory in 2013. Today, the attempt to “censor” Jeffco’s AP History curriculum is perhaps the best-known reason among the public justifying the recall–frequently cited by petition signers as their reason for doing so without any prompting.
Today, however, right-wing defenders of the Jeffco school board majority are claiming “vindication” of Williams after the College Board released another round of revisions to AP U.S. History framework intended to mollify conservative critics. From Newsweek’s latest issue:
The new framework significantly pares down last year’s framework, simplifying and condensing the course’s Thematic Learning Objectives from 50 to 19, according to an official at the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers AP exams. In the process, a new section on the concept of “American exceptionalism” has been added. Some names that were omitted from last year’s framework, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, have been added—a key sticking point for critics of the prior document, who objected to Founding Fathers being omitted and negative aspects in American history being more emphasized, they claimed, than positive periods. Ben Carson, a GOP presidential candidate, said the curriculum was so anti-American that students who complete it would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”
…In October, the College Board began accepting comment from teachers and the general public on the standards. In April, Trevor Packer, College Board’s head of AP, announced that revisions would be published in July based on the feedback.
Teachers Newsweek spoke with, who sat on a committee to draft the framework, stressed that the document was never meant to be a description of the totality of what an AP U.S. history teacher must teach, but rather a simplified outline that guides the course toward certain themes. [Pols emphasis] The impetus for the original revision, published last year, was to redirect the course away from rote memorization of facts and more toward “historical thinking skills,” according to Ted Dickson, a teacher at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina…
“The amount of press it got was entirely ridiculous because I don’t think they understood what it was meant to be. It was a framework that meant to let teachers understand the limits of what would be tested. You add examples, you teach it how you want to teach it, just make sure you teach these important concepts,” Hastings said. But critics saw it as excluding, among other things, favorite Founding Fathers and historical events that contribute to America’s legacy, such as its role in winning World War I and World War II. In the new framework, America’s military achievements are given a greater emphasis than in the last document.
Bottom line: the changes made by the College Board to the AP U.S. History curriculum are not anything like the sweeping and highly politicized review of history Williams sought last year. Making a few changes to specifically invoke certain names and events–the “rote memorization of facts” noted above–do not come close to Williams’ test of a history curriculum that “promotes patriotism, the free enterprise system, and respect for authority,” while avoiding “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
Because Williams’ proposal did tremendous damage to the credibility of the Jefferson County school board’s conservative majority, it makes sense that they would loudly declare any concession on the matter as “vindication.” If anything, these small concessions only cast Williams’ over-the-top proposal for a sweeping and politically slanted review of U.S. History into harsher relief. If throwing empty bromides like “American exceptionalism” and the name Benjamin Franklin into the framework is really enough to placate Williams, her criticisms were baseless to begin with.
But the truth is, Williams wanted much more than that. And this small concession won’t save her from an outraged and tuned-in Jeffco electorate.