AP US History is a very difficult course. I know, because I taught it for quite a while. The students who took the courses in my classroom were, for the most part, the cream of the crop. They were interested in both the historical facts, and their implications. And they wanted to know the truth. Fact is, when I was learning history, I did too.
I’m not sure at this point whether the disruptions to the educational process are the best way for the students to get their message across. This is school, and people are going to look at it as students attempting to find a way to just get out of it. Schools have closed as a result, and students are planning to stay away on “count day”, when enrollment and attendance figures are taken to calculate financial allocations. On the other hand, civil disobedience that is respectful of boundaries and other viewpoints, is certainly an effective means of getting your message across.
I’m opposed to sanitizing history, or leaving things out deliberately, for the sake of “patriotism” or political correctness, and basically, that’s what’s going on in this incident. There are things in our past history that should be open to question. Treatment of Native Americans over the course of our entire history is absolutely open for discussion. So is the use of the atom bomb at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I would add to that other strategic bombing in World War II, particularly Dresden and Wurzburg, Germany. The people in those cities had no control over their government, and could not affect war policy. It was late in the war, and the outcome was a foregone conclusion. What’s wrong with high school students having that discussion? How will they ever be able to avoid repeating mistakes, if they’re not allowed to study all of history, not just the parts that make our ancestors look good?
From the college board, which develops the curriculum guides for AP courses:
“Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history – from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level, AP U.S. History course.”
There is no doubt that a particular spin can be put on the curriculum objectives of a history class. But there’s a big difference between “spinning” interpretations of historical events, and allowing students to draw their own conclusions after hearing the facts. I taught AP History within the context of a Christian high school which integrated a Biblical worldview into the curriculum, and we had no problem dealing with the content. My biggest concern regarding the public education system is an overall lack of control and order of student behavior, and a lack of sold objectives in the curriculum which has “dumbed down” the student population, and taken away their ability to think critically and evaluate the facts. It seems that this is exactly what the Jefferson County school board is attempting to do. If those board members who think this is the right thing to do were educated in the schools they now governed, they should be ashamed of the outcome.
The American Revolution would never have occurred had it not been for the ability of those involved to raise an army, select a governing body called “Congress,” and march at Lexington and Concord. Under British law, which was the law of the land at the time, that was treason. The civil rights movement would never have happened if Dr. Martin Luther King had followed the existing racial rules and society’s expectations, and “stayed in their place.” And unless American leadership has been perfect, and we know that it hasn’t, its mistakes and misjudgments should be discussed in order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. Suppressing the facts never leads to the desired result, anyway, and these are elected officials who should know that.
I can recall several excellent discussions (and some debates and arguments) in my history class around the topic of the Bible’s teachings on the sanctity of human life, and the justification for dropping an atom bomb on two large Japanese cities, for the purpose of breaking their will and ending the war. We also had some great discussions about how people could be as familiar with the Bible as so many Americans were in the nineteenth century, and yet came to the conclusions that Native Americans were subhuman savages, and worthy of death and destruction of their culture. I don’t think the discussion, or the criticism of the act itself, undermined anyone’s patriotism or love for their own country, on the contrary, several of them made note of the fact that if we can’t learn from our past mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. Some of them observed that perhaps the fact that so few Native Americans profess faith in Jesus may have to do with the treatment that many of their ancestors, and many of them, have endured. I’d say they got it.
Conservatives have accused liberals of using the public education system to advance their own agenda. This smacks of hypocrisy, as it is clearly attempt to advance a conservative agenda and use the public schools to do so. Don’t be afraid of the truth, because “it will set you free.” This can all be taught without strong-arming students to accept a “conservative” perspective and hiding the facts that don’t support it.