Experts: AP U.S. History Still Doesn’t Teach American Exceptionalism

Scott Greer | Contributor

Last week, the College Board announced it was revising its new standards for Advanced Placement U.S. history courses in response to criticism that the updated curriculum was too negative in covering America’s past.

But skeptics aren’t buying the change, and they believe that the new curriculum still doesn’t teach American exceptionalism to high school students.

Writing in National Review Monday, independent scholar Stanley Kurtz — who’s been at the forefront of denouncing the 2014 AP changes — says the revisions are ultimately “meaningless.”

“While the College Board has thrown in a mention of American exceptionalism to placate critics, the framework itself continues to focus on globalism, culture-mixing, gender identity, migration, environmentalism, and such,” Kurtz wrote.

“America’s sense of principled mission, its unique blending of religious and democratic commitment, its characteristic emphasis on local government, the high cultural esteem in which economic enterprise is held, and America’s distinctive respect for individual liberty, are neither stressed nor contrasted with other countries to highlight the American difference.”

The scholar argues that the revisions — which added more mentions of exceptionalism and took out some “controversial” language — are only cosmetic changes and do little to emphasize the nation’s roots in traditional western culture. (RELATED: Scholar: Under New AP Standards, ‘American History Will Not Be About America’)

“[T]he APUSH framework remains reluctant to acknowledge the distinctive character, much less the achievements, of either Western, British, or American culture. A contrived theme on American national identity has been added as a way of placating critics. But in actual content, the framework remains focused on globalism, culture-mixing, and migration,” he said.

He concludes that the material being taught to students taking the course is still overwhelmingly “left-leaning” and emphasizes a negative portrayal of America.

Wilfred McClay — a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma and another noted skeptic of the AP standards — agrees with Kurtz’s assessment that the revisions are “superficial.”

“I’m still studying it, but so far I have the impression that the changes are superficial, and do not represent a fundamental change,” McClay told The Daily Caller.

The historian believes that the problems with the College Board’s new standards makes a great argument for why the organization needs healthy competition.

“What makes the College Board’s revision of its standards so consequential is the fact that, at present, it holds a monopoly over the administration of Advanced Placement in this country,” he said. “When you think about it, this is absurd. There is no good reason why ANY single organization should have such a monopoly, and many good reasons why it shouldn’t.

To McClay, this educational monopoly goes against the way American history should be taught.

“We Americans don’t like monopolies, and we don’t like the idea that any one organization gets to be the custodian of an ‘official’ version of our history,” he stated to TheDC. “American history is full of contested ideas and claims; the way we teach it ought to reflect that fact.”

Since their introduction in 2014, the new AP U.S. history standards have faced a torrent of criticism from scholars and state legislatures alike. Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas all introduced legislation that called for the removal of the courses in the response to the new guidelines and over 120 historians signed a letter critiquing the curriculum. (RELATED: Why Are Conservatives So Bloody Mad About AP History?)

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