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A(New)PUSH for Truth in American History

Yesterday, I highlighted a brave Jeffco mom who was willing to go on camera and thank the Jefferson County Board of Education majority for standing up for reform. I also ran through a distressingly lengthy list of inaccurate claims—maybe “fabrications” would be more appropriate—and downright disturbing revelations about the recall. Included in the list was a mention of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework, which I’d like to spend some more time on today.

Many of you remember the teacher sickouts and student walkouts last fall. Initially, we were told—amid many “ums” and “uhs”—that the protests were about the board’s move to a performance-based raise model. You already know how much (and why) I support pay-for-performance systems, but this one was exceptionally innocuous, providing raises to 99 percent of Jeffco teachers. Yes, 99 percent.

When that argument fell apart under the weight of pesky reality, the protests morphed into misleading statements about the board’s attempt to “censor” or “whitewash” American history by proposing the creation of a curriculum review committee to examine, among other things, the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework. You likely recall (heh) that the original, somewhat inflammatory proposal was never even truly introduced at the board table, that there were never any concrete plans to review or modify APUSH, and that no review of the framework was ever undertaken. The only outcome of the controversy was the creation of two new curriculum review committees that better represent a cross section of interested parties and community members.

I am personally of the opinion that no justification was ever required of the board’s desire to review district curricula of any kind given that such power is granted clearly and explicitly by Article IX, Section 15 of the Colorado Constitution. I would certainly have felt differently had they actually made any true effort to “censor” history, but they didn’t. All that aside, though, it now appears that many concerns about APUSH have been vindicated.

Rick Hess, my favorite education policy maven and head of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, recently coauthored a new framework itself. For now, it should suffice to say that the new framework does indeed talk about “American exceptionalism” instead of treating that phrase as a dirty word, explicitly includes the Founding Fathers, and actually makes an effort to frame things like World War II and the Declaration of Independence as more than footnotes in a larger conversation about identity politics. In other words, it has abandoned the previous attempt to shoehorn the entirety of American history into the box of modern progressive ideology.

As you can probably tell, I feel pretty good about the new framework. Some out there will undoubtedly brush my opinion aside by asserting that I am little more than a projection of the Koch brothers’ will, however, so I don’t expect you to take my word for it. You can also check out Huffington Post’s article on the subject, which makes a halfhearted attempt to accuse conservatives of being conspiratorial yet cannot bring itself to complain about the new improvements. If even that’s not enough, you can read this Newsweek article on the same subject. Again, there’s a token amount of vitriol embedded in the story, but no substantive complaints against the new framework.

Heck, even the College Board admits that the new version is “a clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history that remains faithful to the requirements that colleges and universities set for academic credit.”

This raises some interesting questions. Will critics of the Jeffco board majority, who spent much of last fall and winter shouting about the board’s irrational concerns and attempts to “censor” history, now accuse the College Board of doing the “whitewashing”? Or will they admit that maybe, just maybe, they rushed to judgment when legitimate changes were needed? Will they continue to rail against the inclusion of “American exceptionalism” now that it has been endorsed by the same experts to whom they hitched their wagons last year?

More importantly, will they stop using the APUSH controversy as a central plank of the recall effort now that concerns about the framework have been vindicated? It’s too late to change the petition language, which also accused the board of trying to “censor” history, but it’s not too late for them to be honest and admit they made a mistake.

As usual, I’m not holding my breath.