AP History repeats itself

Last year, I wrote about the College Board’s plan to mandate a left-wing framework for the teaching of AP European History, a college-level course for American high school students and the last course in European history that many of them take. I relied on a devastating critique of the AP European History exam (APEH) issued by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) and written by David Randall.

Dr. Randall’s key findings were:

1) APEH presents the history of government rather than of liberty.

2) APEH presents religion throughout as an instrument of power rather than as an autonomous sphere of European history.

3) APEH treats the movement to abolish slavery without mentioning how it was inspired by religious faith, led by saints such as William Wilberforce, and hymned to Amazing Grace.

4) APEH underplays British history throughout, thus minimizing the importance of Britain’s distinctive history in the European tradition as the champion of liberty.

5) APEH minimizes and extenuates the evils of Communism, the brutal destructiveness of Soviet rule, and the aggressiveness of Soviet foreign policy.

6) APEH virtually ignores Europe’s unique development of the architecture of modern knowledge, which made possible almost every modern form of intellectual inquiry.

7) APEH doesn’t argue that European history is important or interesting in itself. APEH never gives a reason why students should study Europe’s history in particular.

In addition, APEH omits key figures ranging from Christopher Columbus to Winston Churchill. It seems impossible that Churchill would be airbrushed out of a European History course until one remembers how inconvenient he is for leftists.

Now, the College Board has significantly revised its AP European History exam standards in ways responsive to some of the NAS concerns. However, serious problems persist.

The main problems cited by NAS are these:

1) No Liberty. Above all, the College Board failed to include liberty. The words liberty and freedom are still almost absent from its standards, and there is no sense that the struggle for liberty is a central thread of European history.

2) No Economic Freedom. The College Board failed to include economic liberty. The revised standards still avoid a straightforward discussion of the principles, institutions, and benefits of economic liberty.

3) No History of Modern Knowledge. The College Board failed to incorporate the history of Europe’s unique development of the architecture of modern knowledge—from astronomy to geology in the natural sciences, and from art history to sociology in the humanities and social sciences.

4) No Acknowledgment of Soviet Genocide. The College Board’s description of Soviet history still pulls its punches by failing to state explicitly that the regime committed starvation-genocide of the Ukrainians, and smaller genocides and ethnic cleansings of nations including Balts, Tatars, and Poles.

5) No Columbus. The College Board failed to shift from an emphasis on the inevitabilities of social and economic history to an emphasis on contingency and individual endeavor. Strange absences therefore persist, such as the names of individual explorers such as Christopher Columbus.

6) No Reason to Learn Europe’s History. The College Board failed to argue that European history is exceptional, important, or interesting in itself, failed to give a reason why students should study Europe’s history in particular, and failed to mention that Americans should study Europe’s past because it is our history.

7) Secular Modernization Is Still the Story. The College Board failed to remove its overall narrative of secular modernization.

Peter Wood, president of (NAS), commended the College Board for making noticeable changes, but added:

[E]ven if the College Board followed through on these changed standards with the necessary accompanying changes to text books, teacher preparation, and ancillary materials prepared by independent organizations, the limited nature of the changes demonstrates that the College Board is incapable of reforming itself sufficiently.

He therefore called for “a new, rival assessment organization, to provide advanced placement examinations that meet minimum professional levels of ideologically unbiased history and basic factual accuracy.”

The need for a rival assessment organization is reinforced by the fact that College Board pulled the same stunts with regard to AP US History that it now has done with APEH. Initially, as we discussed here, it mandated a blatantly far left-wing framework for teaching the history of our country. When NAS and others balked, it made some improvements, but they were largely cosmetic.

It seems that AP History repeats itself, both times as a mixture of tragedy and farce. Only competition in AP testing can break this cycle.


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