NAS Publishes New Report, "Disfigured History"

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 11/22

American history education is beyond dysfunctional. Not only are students denied quality instruction of America’s intellectual heritage, its founding principles, and its development into a world superpower—they are instead taught a warped anti-history that construes all of the above as worthy of condemnation. And this miseducation begins long before college. From the moment most American children enter the classroom, they are taught to disdain all that has made our country worth loving.

One of the main culprits behind this educational malpractice is the College Board, the company behind the SAT and Advanced Placement (AP exams). The College Board’s three history courses and examinations—AP United States History (APUSH), AP European History (APEH), and AP World History: Modern (APWHM)—shape secondary and post-secondary history instruction throughout the entire country. 

Nearly a million American students take these courses every year, and those that don’t enroll in them sit for courses tailored to prepare them for AP history. Meanwhile, colleges and universities are left to pick up the pieces of the fractured history education incoming students received in high school.

True reform of College Board history is years overdue. Meanwhile, the three courses and exams continue to get worse with each revision published. In the National Association of Scholars’ new report, Disfigured History: How the College Board Demolishes the Past, NAS Director of Research David Randall presents an in-depth critique of all three courses’ 2019 Course and Exam Descriptions. His findings ought to be disturbing for students, parents, and teachers alike.

Take the terms freedom and liberty, for example. These concepts are, in Randall’s words, given “remarkably little coverage” in both the APUSH and APEH Course and Exam Descriptions, despite being the very bedrock of the United States. The APUSH description alone is over 250 pages long and mentions the word freedom a measly ten times. Liberty is only mentioned on seven occasions. Put simply, “AP United States History cannot bear to state outright the truth of America’s dedication to freedom.” Randall continues:

APUSH 2019 mentions neither liberty nor freedom in its coverage of The Constitutional Convention and Debates over Ratification, The Constitution, the Monroe Doctrine, Abolitionism, women’s rights, the Republican Party’s 1860 Platform, Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Gilded Age laissez-faire policies, anti-imperial critiques, 1920s Political and Cultural Controversies, the Cold War, domestic anti-communism (tendentiously titled “The Red Scare”), the Civil Rights Movement, Reagan and Conservatism, and economic deregulation.

These are astonishing omissions both in number and significance, and the lack of clear instruction on freedom and liberty is but one of the manifold errors in APUSH, APEH, and APWHM. Randall’s full report provides a comprehensive analysis of all three.

Ultimately, we believe that the College Board must be replaced. It has shown scant willingness to reform its ways, and millions of children have paid the price. As Randall writes,

America must replace the College Board with new providers of standardized assessments. Our future, chained to their bankrupt status quo, will be endless test reform, changing course with every political and pedagogical gust, that renders impossible stable, effective pedagogy and never arrives at historical truth. The College Board’s sorry record of revising its history Course and Exam Descriptions illustrates the endless mutability of error.

Our children deserve real history. Indeed, they need it in order to become virtuous, informed citizens, not the demoralized and ignorant students current College Board coursework has left them to be.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’  weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: HeidiSadecky, Public Domain

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