Oklahoma May Scrap AP History For Focusing On America's 'Bad Parts'

Feb 18, 2015
Originally published on February 23, 2015 9:47 am
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In Oklahoma, state lawmakers are debating a bill that would stop the teaching of advanced placement courses in U.S. history. Here's why - some believe the high school classes focus too much on what is, quote, "bad about America." The bill easily passed through a house committee there this week. Rachel Hubbard of member station, KOSU, reports.

RACHEL HUBBARD, BYLINE: Since Monday, Christine Custred has had a flood of students stop by her classroom at Edmond Memorial High School near Oklahoma City. She teaches history, and her students are worried.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: I'm so sorry that all of this is happening to you.

CHRISTINE CUSTRED: No, no, no. It's going to - you know what? Ultimately, it's not going to affect me at this school - they're so committed to AP - but it's so alarming.

HUBBARD: Those concerned conversations are about a bill moving through the Oklahoma Legislature. It's gotten a lot of attention since it passed out of committee on Monday. But how controversial can AP history be? Well, apparently that depends on who you ask. Dan Fisher is a Republican state legislator who introduced the Oklahoma bill. He says he did so after he heard from a number of teachers who were concerned about a new AP curriculum that went into effect this year.

DAN FISHER: In the new framework, little if anything is even emphasized about the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution or our war of independence. The founders are hardly even mentioned. In fact, there's one sentence out of George Washington's farewell address, and it's basically spun negatively.

HUBBARD: Fisher says he wrote the bill because he's concerned students would leave school with major gaps in their knowledge and possibly a jaded perspective about the country. The history teacher, Christine Custred, consults for the College Board, which writes the AP curriculum. She also helps other teachers implement the course.

CUSTRED: The biggest difference was - this revision came in attempt to have teachers stop chasing trivia.

HUBBARD: Now, she says the outline is divided into nine periods of history, and local teachers can choose what documents to teach. The new curriculum is 140 pages long. It doesn't mandate the discussion of all U.S. history, and Custred says that's OK because to talk about civil rights in the Deep South means you also have to discuss with students the Declaration of Independence.

CUSTRED: In most places in the world, you'll be hauled off by some kind of Gestapo if you criticize the country and/or government, and that is exceptional that we can do that.

HUBBARD: The Oklahoma bill would force the State Department of Education to examine the AP curriculum. If it doesn't meet state standards, funding would be removed. In its place, lawmakers would put in a newly designed state program. Fisher says it's early in the legislative process and he welcomes the debate.

FISHER: But to mischaracterize it as an attempt to do away with the AP program, and we want to jerk the funding - it's just not honest.

HUBBARD: What's happening in Oklahoma isn't unique. Republican lawmakers in several other states like Georgia are pushing debates on similar measures. Changes to the AP curriculum have also sparked controversy and protest in Texas and Colorado. For NPR News, I'm Rachel Hubbard in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.