A rant: AP US History

The conservative mind is a curious thing, divided against itself in so many ways.  On the one hand, you have the “business interests” portion of the mind insisting that the schools must—absolutely must—graduate students who are incredible critical thinkers and problem solvers.  On the other hand, you have the “god, guns, and gays” mindset that recoils at any suggestion that the ground on which they stand might not be as solid as they’d like to believe.

This conservative schizophrenia is now playing out in the Gwinnett County School System as the usual suspects pick up the screeching about the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, which was revised in part to challenge our top students to think critically about historical data.  But Noooooooooo! scream the howler monkeys, It’s all radical liberal communist propaganda my country tis of thee american exceptionalism no exceptions! 


Here’s the problem.  There are two ways to frame education.  One is that it’s a process of learning how to learn, of making sure the student is prepared to face the modern world with the proper skills and attitudes to be a productive member of our democratic society.

The other, alas, regards education as a set of facts and figures to be learned. And tested on.

I will now pause while you decide which framework is the one to which the GGG conservative mindset clings.

The problem is that the proponents of each framework will never agree on curriculum.  They can’t; they don’t even see the goals as the same.  One side envisions the best students as regurgitators of facts, essential facts, while the other sees them as problem-solvers who are able to evaluate data and propose solutions based on them.

Here’s why the GGG conservatives are wrong—and they are wrong—about the APUSH curriculum.  Their cry that important stuff has been left out of the curricullum is misguided, mainly because it’s not so much the factoids as the mythic filter of those factoids that concerns them.  “We’re teaching them that the U.S. has been wrong.”

Well, yes, we are because we were.  These students, the top of the top, have already gotten the mythos in the previous years of their education, assuming their school system hasn’t shortchanged history in order to slam the students with MATH AND SCIENCE WHY WOULD THEY EVEN DO THAT EVEN?

These students already know that the U.S. is the bestest ever.  By the time they enter APUSH, headed to college, they need to start examining more nuanced views of our history.  What have we done right?  What have we done wrong?  Where have we learned, and where have we not learned?  It’s questions like these that keep the policy makers in Washington up at night, and it’s a good thing, too.  As H.L. Mencken (PBUH) said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”  We don’t want people in our government who are so sure of the facts that they can’t see significant alternatives.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Republicans.   Dickheads.

Here’s why the GGG mindset about facts—just the facts, ma’am—is not only wrong, but stupid.  Once you’ve decided that the curriculum is just going to be a Gradgrindian slog through all the essential facts, then you have to fight it out over which facts are essential enough to be slogged through.  In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article which prompted this post, the reporter slyly ended the article with a quote from a former Gwinnett teacher who is a lead howler monkey:

…Urbach, the former Gwinnett teacher, stuck to his claims about what not’s taught in the district.

“Over 200 years worth of European history is not taught,” he said.  “I taught the course for six years, and we never made it to the 1970s.  Only one, maybe two days teaching on the Holocaust.”

Such is the totality of the GGG’s un-self-awareness that Mr. Urbach cannot see what he’s just said: if all you teach is the facts, you cannot possibly teach all of them.  I used to tell teachers all the time, if you make my son love history so much that he will continue to learn about it the rest of his life, I don’t give a crap whether you cover Jacksonian democracy or not.  (Indeed, his APUSH history teacher was a Gradgrind of the worst kind, and not incoincidentally I think, was a conservative who brooked no discussion or opposition to the literally thousands of “facts” she required them to memorize.)

There is no solution.   The howler monkeys will never shut the hell up, while their own corporate masters bemoan the fact that there’s no one they can hire because schools are not giving them the problem-solvers they need.  No solution.

At least not until those FEMA camps get built.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email