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October 3, 2014

Students protest possible AP History changes

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More than 1,000 students in Colorado walked out of classes recently in protest of proposed changes to the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum.

The College Board created a new framework for AP U.S. courses in 2012 which sought to de-emphasize fact memorization and promote critical thinking.  Those changes went into effect this year.

However, the new framework has drawn criticism from conservative groups who said that the standards allow teachers to portray the U.S. in a negative light.

In Jefferson County, school board members proposed the creation of a committee to oversee this curriculum.

The proposal states that class materials should “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”

Classes should not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law” and the course materials should portray the U.S. in a positive light, the proposal said.

Students spoke out against the proposal, saying that it amounts to censorship of their education.

“I feel that it’s our duty or our right as Americans to learn our full history, because it’s from that full history that we can grow into a better country,” Jefferson County student Scott Romano said.

The Jefferson County school board passed what some called a “compromise” plan this week, which established curriculum review committees that will include more students, teachers and members of the community. But the plan did not directly address the AP U.S. history course at the center of the controversy.

The new AP U.S. History framework has caused controversy in other areas as well. In Texas, the state school board passed a resolution in September requesting that the College Board rewrite the recent changes. And a South Carolina parent group has criticized the curriculum for not specifically mentioning certain historical figures, such as the founding fathers.

The College Board has said that any school that omits important concepts for students will lose its Advanced Placement status.


Warm up questions
  1. Who do you think creates the curriculum you learn in school? Hint: are the decisions made at the local (county), state or federal level?
  2. Have you ever taken an AP class? How was it different from your regular-level classes?
  3. Think back to elementary school, how was history taught?  What kinds of history did you learn about? Why is it important to learn about history?
Critical thinking questions
  1. It was reported in the story that “The College Board created a new framework for AP U.S. courses in 2012 which sought to de-emphasize fact memorization and promote critical thinking.” If you were designing a new version of a course with those requirements in mind, how would you design it? What would the tests in a class like that look like?
  2. Some members of the school board proposed to change the AP U.S. History curriculum to “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”
    • Do you think these are important things to learn about as an American? Why or why not?
    • Think of an event you learned about in a U.S. history class. Do you feel that it was taught to you in a way that reflected those ideals? How might emphasizing those ideals change that way a topic might be taught? Hint: Think about what might be emphasized in the teaching of that topic and what might be less talked about?
  3. Some students have voiced disapproval against the changes and one said “I feel that it’s our duty or our right as Americans to learn our full history, because it’s from that full history that we can grow into a better country.” Do you agree or disagree with that sentiment? What do you think the student meant by a “full history”?
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