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Another Politicized Curriculum Revision Means College Board Needs Some Competitors


History repeats itself. The College Board, which controls much of the curriculum in American high schools through Advanced Placement (AP) courses that can earn college credit, continues its game of leaning as far left as it can before criticism from scholars and parents pulls it back from the brink.

In our last episode, the College Board responded to the uproar over its leftist revised AP U.S. History (APUSH) framework by issuing a new framework that incorporated some of the critiques but retained much of the problematic structure. Now it’s doing the same with AP European History.

The College Board issued its highly revisionist APUSH framework in 2014. It presented American history as a dark, depressing story of conflict and oppression. After months of protests by scholarsstate legislators and education officials, and parents, the College Board finally withdrew the framework and replaced it with one less overtly biased (although commentator Stanley Kurtz noted that problems remained, including retention of the slanted textbooks and teacher training). But the controversy receded from public view.

What College Board, which also runs the SAT college entrance exam, teaches is of key importance to American citizens because many states and the federal government subsidize its activities, such as teacher training sessions and end-of-course exams. It is considered a marquee brand of advanced courses for high school students, and many states use AP exam results as benchmarks for student progress and fund programs designed to increase enrollment. AP humanities classes are often the brightest students’ only or framing courses on U.S. and world history, giving it power to shape their worldview for life.

From Knowledge to Marxist Theories

In the midst of the APUSH debate, the College Board released its revised framework for AP European History (APEH). The respected National Association of Scholars (NAS) analyzed the new curriculum and found, not unexpectedly, that the leftist cast of APUSH colored APEH as well.

NAS reported that the new APEH framework either minimized or completely ignored religion (apparently the Reformation, for example, had little effect on European history); free enterprise (Adam who?); the crimes and brutality of the Soviet Union; European intellectual history other than secular modernization; and on and on. In an astonishing feat, APEH also managed to practically excise Great Britain from European history altogether.

Like the revised APUSH framework, the APEH framework ignored individuals’ contributions in favor of analyzing the broad historical currents so central to Marxist historical analysis. As NAS concluded, such an approach “works to justify modern progressivism’s soft-Marxist political action in the present. . . . APEH shreds European history to serve today’s progressive agenda.”

Just as it did with APUSH, the College Board eventually issued a revised product meant to blunt the criticism. NAS has reviewed the most recent APEH framework and discovered something similar to the APUSH product: some improvements, but many continued problems.

In “Churchill In, Columbus Still Out: A Half-Loaf from the College Board,” NAS notes the improvements: a new theme on nations and national cultures, greater prominence of religion and its influence, less bias against free enterprise, a truer depiction of the Soviet Union, more information on Great Britain, and other smaller changes to reduce the liberal bias.

But NAS also finds that serious shortcomings remain. The revised framework still minimizes the concept of liberty, including economic liberty. “There is no sense that the struggle for liberty is a central thread of European history,” NAS says, and no “straightforward discussion of the principles, institutions, and benefits of economic liberty.”

There is no focus on “Europe’s unique development of the architecture of modern knowledge,” including natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The revised framework still ignores Soviet genocide, as well as the contributions of individuals such as Columbus. It also fails to give students any reason to believe European history is exceptional or important, or that it is uniquely important to understanding the foundations of American government and society.

These Changes Look a Lot Like Window-Dressing

NAS president Peter Wood concluded that College Board’s changes “are ultimately superficial and do not change the overall focus of the guidelines.” He also noted the critical point that any improvements made to the framework will be ineffective without “accompanying changes to text books, teacher preparation, and ancillary materials prepared by independent organizations” — changes the College Board has given no indication of making.

This latest episode of AP hijinks illustrates that the American public is being played. The College Board issues a biased product, critics gear up for a months-long campaign to call attention to the bias, then the College Board makes marginal improvements and declares the problem fixed—after textbooks and teacher preparation have been aligned to the original biased curriculum. Must we go through this charade every time the College Board issues a new AP framework?

NAS president Wood puts his finger on the salient point: “This failure by the College Board underscores the need for a new, rival assessment organization, to provide advanced placement examinations that meet minimum professional levels of ideologically unbiased history and basic factual accuracy.” Imagine what a little free enterprise might do for the College Board’s mindset.