It was reported a couple days ago that some people in the Oklahoma legislature were trying to ban funding for Advanced Placement US History courses. The main objection is that the course guidelines are insufficiently patriotic (i.e. focus too much on negative aspects of history). The objections appear to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the goals of a history course. A history course – and an advanced high school course in particular – should not simply be about regurgitating names and dates. The goal should really be to use factual evidence to make arguments about historical events and historical trends. Knowing the impact of ideas and events on society and how that shapes future events is more important than being able to name every president or recite the Declaration of Independence from memory. This often will mean that greater focus should be given to events that don’t exactly portray society in a positive light. Those events often have a greater impact in setting the course of future history than the exploits and accomplishments of individual heroic figures. Studying the latter too easily devolves into little more than learning propaganda and mythology. Looking at the sample exam provided by the College Board, it seems that the AP US History test has deemphasized simple multiple choice questions about basic facts and now focuses much more on responding to passages by placing them in their historic context and deciding what the text says about historical events. I think this is exactly what the test should do.
The Oklahoma bill passed through a legislative committee by a large majority. Fortunately, it now appears that the bill will be modified before coming up to a final vote after the massive public outcry since this became widely reported in the media.