Daily Dispatches
Wikimedia Commons/The White House Historical Association
"Benjamin Franklin 1767" by David Martin

Do U.S. history classes really need to teach about Benjamin Franklin?

Education

Conservatives are calling for the College Board to suspend changes to its Advanced Placement U.S. History course, set to take place for the next school year. They are concerned the new curriculum framework, used to guide AP high school classes across the nation, gives a biased, negative, and narrow view of American history while overriding state education standards.

Last week, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution saying the new framework “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history,” according to Education Week. The resolution asks the College Board to delay the new course exam to allow for further investigation and revision.

The nonprofits American Principles in Action and Concerned Women for America also posted an Aug. 4 open letter to David Coleman, president of the College Board, that has garnered more than 1,150 signatures. 

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“The new framework inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country,” the letter says. “[Teachers] wonder how they can reconcile the twin goals of preparing their students to score well on the APUSH [AP U.S. History] exam with the traditional goal of preparing their students to be well-educated citizens.”

The College Board decided to change the course and exam because teachers said “the course required a breathless race through American history,” according to the frequently asked questions page on the organization’s website. 

But Larry Krieger, a retired AP U.S. History teacher and author of AP U.S. History study guides, was shocked to read the new curriculum framework. “I thought to myself, I can’t teach this,” he said during an Aug. 4 conference call.

The framework describes Manifest Destiny—the 19th century idea that the United States was destined to spread across the continent—as “built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority.” 

Krieger also was dismayed at the treatment of WWII: “There’s no discussion whatsoever of the valor and heroism of American soldiers—none.” Instead, the framework says, “Wartime experiences, such as the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.” 

The framework also faces criticism for its failure to align with state standards. The new framework is 98 pages long, compared to the five-page topic outline teachers used previously, Krieger said. The framework states in underlined and bold letters, “Beginning with the May 2015 AP U.S. History Exams, no AP U.S. History Exam questions will require students to know historical content that falls outside this concept outline.” 

By providing such a detailed outline, the College Board is unilaterally assuming the authority to prioritize which parts of history are taught and which are left out, American Principles in Action and Concerned Women for America said in their Aug. 4 letter to Coleman.

In response, the College Board released a sample exam and said conservatives’ concerns are based on “a significant misunderstanding.” The board plans to release a clarified version of the framework soon. But Coleman insists the framework does not omit important people or events from a student’s course of study. Teachers must still “populate” the framework with content from their state’s standards, he said.

Coleman also notes the exam begins with an excerpt from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. But it doesn’t require students to know anything about the book’s author, conservatives say: “Neither the excerpt nor the three following multiple-choice questions have anything to do with Franklin’s life and achievements. Thus, a student could know the answer to the question without ever having heard of Benjamin Franklin.”

Emily Scheie
Emily Scheie

Emily is a World Journalism Institute intern.

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