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Posted by on Feb 18, 2015 in Education, History | 22 comments

Oklahoma’s All-Out Attack on Historical Accuracy in the Classroom

Here’s a question for you: What do we need more of in our public schools?

The correct answer is “money.” But lawmakers in Oklahoma have an answer of their own: “organized religion.”

The new AP History curriculum hasn’t received much love from the Republican National Committee; back in September, they made headlines by condemning what they called a “radical,” “revisionist,” and “biased” curriculum. Coming under fire were those parts of the curriculum that referred to early American institutions such as racism and slavery. According to an open letter from the College Board, which created the curriculum, this was an attempt to teach American students “the ‘why’ of U.S. history, and to make its deeper meanings come alive to students.”

Sounds good to me. Common sense tells us that studying and understanding our past is the key to avoiding the same mistakes in the future. This fact is apparently lost on Peter Wood, a champion of ignorance, who responded to the new curriculum by calling it a “briefing document on progressive and leftist views of the American past.” Meanwhile, Ken Mercer, a Texas School Board member, attempted to delay the deployment of the curriculum “indefinitely” because it contained what he called “negative stuff.”

Fast-forward five months, and the debate is far from over. A bill recently approved (in an 11-4 vote) in Oklahoma, authored by Representative Dan Fisher, will seek to do two things.

The first would be to ban the new AP History curriculum and all of that “negative stuff.” The second would be to replace it with a curriculum that contains the 10 Commandments and a selection of other “foundational documents.”

You know: American history-type stuff. But just for good measure, they’re throwing in a few speeches made by GOP patron saints Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And why wouldn’t they? The Bible and trickle-down economics make for the best of bedfellows.

In total, the new “approved” curriculum would contain some 58 documents that will form “the base level of academic content for all US History courses…in the state.”

This time around, the opposition is being led by a retired high school history teacher named Larry S. Krieger and anti-Common Core activist Jane Robbins. Among the many problems with their argument is the fact that they incorrectly associate the AP history curriculum with the Common Core—an altogether different debate. They have a whole platform and website built around this wrongful conflation, which I will not do the courtesy of linking to here.

In its response, the College Board said that the opposition to the AP History curriculum is based on “significant misunderstandings.” Going into further detail, College Board President Dan Coleman confirmed that the curriculum was written by K-12 teachers and professors from around the country, and has received widespread approval. He even provided a sample test, which you can check out for yourself here.

The outcries in Texas and Oklahoma have inspired similar attacks on educational integrity in the states of Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.

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  • ChrisCrawford

    The United States of America is an uncontestable military and economic superpower. It stands to reason that our decline and eventual downfall would not be from some external power, but our own cultural refutation of everything that made us great.
    Education, science, economics, social progress and equality…all are being made out to be enemies of American nationalism now.

    • Slamfu

      That’s how it always goes, for every great nation ever. Societal ossification, arrogance, they always bring themselves down. If China hadn’t pulled back in the 14th Century thinking they were too good for the rest of the world, they would have dominated things like the Europeans. But no, they were too powerful, too rich, they had it all figured out.

      It’s hard to stay #1. People forget what it takes and start thinking silly thoughts. Never believe your own hype.

  • StockboyLA

    If these people believe in American exceptionalism and do not want anything negative to be said about our leaders, then why do they themselves promote such negativity toward our own president? Or do they want history to scrub everything negative ever said about Obama and portray him as a leader on the same par as Reagan?

    • Daniel Faris

      Well said. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Rambie

      It used to be cute, but now the reality denying of the GOP is getting very seriously scary. As ChrisCrawford says below, they are ruining everything that made this country great.

    • Daniel Baker

      I get depressed by how many people sneer at the idea of “American exceptionalism” without having any idea what the phrase means. For that matter, half of the conservatives who celebrate “American exceptionalism” don’t know what it means either.

      “American exceptionalism” simply means that America is an exception to the patterns that most modern highly developed countries have followed. Most first-world countries have parliamentary systems, not federal systems with separation of powers like America. Most first-world countries have homogeneous populations, strict gun control, low incarceration rates, no civil juries (even the UK, which gave us that tradition, has abandoned it), the metric system, relatively strict economic regulation, large labor unions, etc. etc.

      America is an exception to many, many patterns that other developed countries follow. We can argue whether our differences from the norm are good or bad. We can’t deny that they exist.

  • This movement, like the larger conservative movement from which it springs, is anti-American at its core in that it seeks to eradicate disagreement. Our system of separated powers is designed to protect the right to dissent. Yet, this movement seeks to whitewash dissent not only in education but in voting (with fraudulent voter ID laws), the most fundamental of our institutions. Whoever said that when fascism comes to this country it will come beneath the flag and cross was right.

  • The_Ohioan

    I’m assuming this 10 commandments thing would be taught in sociology class? I can see the possibilities for those teachers in discussing war (Tsn murder), colonization (Tsn steal), eminent domain (Tsn covet thy neighbor’s house)…..

    This could backfire big time.

    • Rambie

      They’ve twisted everything else in the bible, so they’d do the same here.

      • The_Ohioan

        Yeah, but the teachers are not the legislators. They could have a high old time pointing out the ironies.

        Of course, teachers can be replaced…..

        And I’m doubtful about the celebrity-mad teens paying much attention to the “Honor thy father and thy mother” thingie.

        • Rambie

          However, the legislators can restrict what is discussed in a classroom. I recall back to my high school sex-ed class, the state mandated “abstinence only” so the teacher couldn’t talk about condoms, pill, etc.

          • The_Ohioan

            How did that work out for you? 🙂

            If you read the legislation, it is a curious document and I think teachers could have some fun with it. It states:

            The documents shall be used for educational purposes only and not to establish or promote any religion.

            but it also contains two sermons (items j and k on page 4). Any teacher worth their salt can use this criteria to educate – by emphasizing and deemphasizing if nothing else.

            And by doing so, can show one way to fight tyranny – not that I think the legislation is right at all. It should be contested under the separation clause.

          • Rambie

            Me, I was fine, my parents had already had “the talk” with me about it years before and about condoms –even though I was raised Catholic ;). The poor teacher, the trouble maker students kept asking about condoms and birth control, so half the class was “I can’t talk about that” or “You’ll have to refer these questions to your parents” /sigh/

          • The_Ohioan

            Just goes to show – forbidden fruit works every time; as it will with this kerfuffle.

          • Rambie

            But teenage birth rates still went up over the next decade or longer. As bad as “abstinence only sex education” is, this new level of science and fact denial is going to be even worse. Now they want to rewrite history?!

          • The_Ohioan

            Yes, that’s the downside of some forbidden fruit. We live in a Reformed and Christian Reformed area here in west Michigan. They have their own schools and are widely represented in the state legislature.

            The statistics show that that (religious) population has higher instances of teenage pregnancy and serial killers (!). The teachers in non-religious high schools in the area report that the kids from k-8 religious schools are the wildest when the get to the freedom of normal high school. Note: personal observations only.

            I’m not sure they want to rewrite history as much as embellish it with their own beliefs. Unless they leave out portions of the constitution and supreme court decisions, studying those and the other documents should be enlightening. The sermons, not so much.

            What I’m suggesting is sly subversion on the part of the teachers and students to counteract the trend. I’m still convinced that a lawsuit will be in the offing and will be successful.

  • JSpencer

    “Common sense tells us that studying and understanding our past is the key to avoiding the same mistakes in the future.”

    I think we’ve become painfully aware over the past couple decades (at least – and even more so in recent years) that “common sense” is rapidly becoming an endangered concept. These Oklahoma lawmakers represent an ideology that prefers to teach a narrative manipulated and morphed away from truth and reality – all in the name of “education”. There can be no winners in that counterfeit scenario.

  • Slamfu

    America was founded by Velociratpor Jesus. He brought over the nice white people to teach the natives about heaven and sinning. The natives were so happy to be taught how wrong they were about their beliefs that they helped the nice white people so they didn’t die. Then the white people brought their black friends over. Everyone was so happy together making the greatest nation ever. The black people were really nice too, and helped the white people with so much hard work that another white person, Abraham Lincoln had a big special party to tell all the white people how great black people are and we should be even nicer to them. Then not long after a super nice black man named Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. re-reminded us how great black people were and everyone was happy ever after.

    USA #1. Vote Republican.

    • DdW

      That’s hilarious, Slamfu. As they say in cyberspace, ROTFLMAO 🙂
      On a more serious note, how sad that most of it is true.

  • The_Ohioan

    Christian supremacists (and Rep. Dan Fisher) ride again.

    Fisher, R-Yukon, is part of a group called the “Black Robe Regiment.” It is a call for religious leaders to challenge politicians for Christian-based governance.

    The group formed the Salt and Light Institute. Its goal is to promote Christian themes in education including history, civics and economics. It is unknown if other state lawmakers are part of the organization.

    Just when you thought the Republican office holders couldn’t get any crazier.

  • The_Ohioan


    “We’re trying to fix the bill,” Fisher told The Oklahoman on Wednesday. “It was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous, and we didn’t realize that, so it’s been misinterpreted. We’re going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish and it’s not to hurt AP. We’re very supportive of the AP program.”

    Opponents of the AP U.S. history course say that it omits the concept of “American exceptionalism” and emphasizes negative aspects of the country’s history.

    Educators and students across the state had been expressing dismay at the bill, as well as at the assertion that all AP courses might be in violation of last year’s legislation that repealed Common Core and gave sole control of curriculum and assessment to the state.

  • Slamfu

    What do we need more of in our public schools?
    The correct answer is “money.”

    This might be a bit of a diversion from the main topic, but one that stuck out for me when I reread this. While more money isn’t likely to hurt, I think the real problems with our education system are a lot less obvious. As proof of this I offer the fact that the USA spends more per capita then any other nation on education. Now while I can’t say with certainty exactly why we are getting such crappy results, I can say that lack of money isn’t the primary reason, and may not be a reason at all.

    Education is clearly important, and we as a nation are basically shitting the bed on it. Time we take a long hard look at other nations that are cleaning our clock, especially in the areas of math and science, and find out what they are doing and emulate it. Germany spends less than we do per capita and manages to pull off free college education now, as do several other nations that are far less affluent than the United States.

    Is there anyone on TMV that is well versed in public education issues? If so I’d like to chat 🙂

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