Quote of the Day:

To one liberal newspaper columnist, doubts about the goodness of the new U.S. history curriculum are “claptrap.” New York magazine said a committee vote in Oklahoma’s legislature to defund AP history teaching sounded like something from “The Colbert Report.”

–Daniel Henninger in today’s Wall Street Journal

Henninger’s must-read column is on the College Board’s new Advanced Placement test for American history and the responses to it, which include a protest letter from fifty-six academics who signed as “Scholars Concerned about Advanced Placement History.”

I recognize quite a few names: Lynn Cheney, author of books on American history; military historian James Jay Carafano; James Ceasar, the Byrd professor of politics at U-Va; Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen, Gerard Bradley, and Father William Miscamble; classicist (and National Review contributor) Victor David Hanson; Phillip Jenkins of Baylor; philosopher Wilfred McClay and others of eminence. The letter (here) criticizes ideological biases in the AP test.

How to solve the problem of whether the protest is “claptrap” or valid? Henninger writes:

Nothing would more benefit this controversy than if every parent, high-school student and state legislator in the U.S. did indeed read through all 130 pages of the proposed framework for AP U.S. History.

The link is here. Henninger summarizes:

The AP history framework is organized into concepts, codings and even Roman numerals. They explain:

“This coding helps teachers make thematic connections across the chronology of the concept outline. The codes are as follows: ID—Identity; WXT—Work, exchange, and technology; PEO—Peopling; POL—Politics and power; WOR—America in the world; ENV—Environment and geography—physical and human; CUL—Ideas, beliefs, and culture.”

An example: “Native peoples and Africans in the Americas strove to maintain their political and cultural autonomy in the face of European challenges to their independence and core beliefs. (ID-4) (POL-1) (CUL-1) (ENV-2).”

Or: “Explain how arguments about market capitalism, the growth of corporate power, and government policies influenced economic policies from the late 18th century through the early 20th century. 3.2.II, 4.2.II, 5.1.II, 6.1.I, 6.1.II, 7.1.II, 7.2.II.”

And inevitably: “Students should be able to explain how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history, with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identities. Students should be able to explain how these subidentities have interacted with each other and with larger conceptions of American national identity.”

Let’s cut to the chase. The notion that this revision, in the works for seven years, is just disinterested pedagogy is, well, claptrap. In the 1980s, Lynne Cheney, as chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, threw down the gauntlet over the leftward, even Marxist, class-obsessed drift of American historiography. She lost.

At one point the curriculum’s authors say: “Debate and disagreement are central to the discipline of history, and thus to AP U.S. History as well.” This statement is phenomenally disingenuous. From Key Concept 1.3: “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales.” Pity the high-school or college student who puts up a hand to contest that anymore. They don’t. They know the Orwellian option now is to stay down.

I have a friend whose son attends one of the military academies. He’s fairly conservative and my friend says that, though he disagrees, he doesn’t dare contest the things that are taught. He wants to graduate. The AP test is filled with progressive claptrap and pipe dreams. We are by no means a flawless society, but we are by no means the society depicted in the AP test.