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Blasting the past

Education | New AP framework presents a relentlessly negative view of U.S. history

Issue: "The one and the many," Sept. 20, 2014

Larry Krieger knew the U.S. history classes advanced students take in 12,176 high schools were changing, but the Pennsylvanian was surprised to find how much. Advanced Placement teachers had previously received a five-page outline of topics to cover. The new “framework” was 98 pages.

Krieger started reading it and became worried. Despite the expansion, the framework omits key historical figures and battles, such as James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Valley Forge, and D-Day. Because Krieger has instructed AP students for decades, he knew the omitted events and persons had previously appeared on exams.

There’s more. “The framework presents a relentlessly negative view of American history that emphasizes conflict, oppression, and exploitation while totally ignoring the innovators, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who built our country,” Krieger said.

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In response, Texas state school board member Ken Mercer plans to introduce a resolution rejecting the new curriculum and its exams, for which students often earn college credit.

The College Board, which runs AP classes and tests, said its revisions reflect what college students encounter in freshman history classes. That may be the problem, wrote Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, in an analysis of the changes: “American history as it is currently taught in many colleges and universities has been twisted … into a platform for political advocacy and for animus against traditional American values.”

Safely scared

Rex Features via AP Images

Although school violence has dropped significantly since 1992, parents and schools are snatching up bulletproof blankets, backpacks, and whiteboards, and a Delaware bill would require new schools to place “bullet resistant white boards in each classroom.”

Federal data currently does not include 2012, the year of the widely publicized Newtown, Conn., school shooting. But it says 57 youngsters were killed at school in 1992-93, a number that steadily declined to 31 school deaths in 2010-11. School violence of all types has also declined.

That hasn’t stopped some parents who buy everything from $100 Kevlar backpack inserts to $1,000 bulletproof blankets. After Newtown, where 20 children and six teachers died, one protective backpack maker saw sales multiply by 10, a company representative told The Washington Post. One thousand people ordered bullet resistant blankets the day they became available, their manufacturer said.

But U.S. childhood is safer than ever, noted Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mom who runs the blog Free-Range Kids: “When I was born, four times more kids died before kindergarten than do now. … What we have is a really distorted perspective that children in school are in danger of being killed by a madman.” —J.P.

Cut the clutter

Associated Press/Photo by Ray Chua

A new study suggests the typical brightly decorated walls of elementary classrooms distract students from learning.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University gave 24 kindergarteners a lesson in two different classrooms. One was studded with artwork and educational posters. The other was unadorned. In the busy room, the children had a hard time concentrating, and scored worse on tests. The researchers say children might get used to busy walls and start tuning them out.

Or they might not. When she worked as a special-education teacher, “we often found that learning and behavior deteriorated in rooms with overzealous decorations,” said Cheryl Swope, author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child. “Years later, when teaching my own special-needs son at home, I noticed he completed work more quickly and more accurately in his own study carrel.”

The findings don’t mean classrooms should be dull, researchers said. Swope agreed, suggesting that teachers post selected “visual displays that assist instruction, such as an alphabet chart when learning to read.” —J.P.

Joy Pullmann
Joy Pullmann

Joy is managing editor of School Reform News. She lives with her husband and two small children in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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