Ben Carson has given us yet another reason to hope that he’s going to run for president: this dopey video of his appearance Monday at the Center for Security Policy’s National Security Action Summit, in which he speaks very movingly about what he considers the many flaws of the revised Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework, about which he appears to have read an article somewhere.
Among other horrors, he explains that the curriculum includes “only two paragraphs in there about George Washington. George Washington, believe it or not!” and “little or nothing about Dr. Martin Luther King.” Oh, but there’s much worse, Carson claims:
A whole section of slavery and how evil we are. A whole section about Japanese internment camps. A whole section about how we wiped out American Indians with no mercy. I mean I think most people when they finish that course, they’d be ready to sign up for ISIS. This is what we are doing to the young people in our nation. This is what we are doing to the young people in our nation. We have got to stop this silliness. We have to stop crucifying ourselves. Have we made mistakes as a nation? Of course we have. Why? Because we are people and all people make mistakes.
We invite Wonkers to take a look at the actual AP US History course and exam description and check that out. Slavery is definitely in there, but we’re betting that the “how evil we are” section is actually much shorter than Ben Carson claims.
And of course, the real giveaway that Carson hasn’t actually looked at APUSH in any detail, not that little details like that matter all that much to Ben Carson or his audience, is that while he speaks of “the AP course in American History that’s being taught in high schools across our country right now,” there is no such single course. The framework is a set of content guidelines designed to schools help design courses, but you couldn’t just print out the PDF and teach a year-long history class from it.
For readers who are into wonky details about what the guidelines actually are all about, the whole darn thing is online, as is a briefer overview of the changes between the old and new versions. And guess what? There actually is not a “whole section on slavery.” Slavery is covered, as it should be, as a central source of tension of the 19th century, ultimately leading to the Civil War, but no, it’s not the cartoonish “America = evil” thing that Carson claims, not that anyone should find that surprising. The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has a pretty nice debunking of some of the more prominent wingnut claims about APUSH, noting that, among other things, the new framework actually requires students to read a wider range of vital historical documents than the older one — not just the Declaration of Independence, but also “Common Sense” and Washington’s Farewell Address.
The other thing that really grinds our gears about Carson — and most of the rightwing attack on APUSH — is that it treats history as a list of names and dates, which is the very thing that the College Board (a far from infallible institution, by the way; don’t get us started on the idiocy of the SAT) is trying to get away from. Instead, the goal is to introduce high school students to how historians think about history and how to build a valid historical analysis. You might even point out that for a course calling itself “advanced,” students don’t need one more trip to the “George Washington bravely led the troops at Valley Forge” fountain. How about a more nuanced look at how Washington and the Continental Congress actually tackled the project of making a new country work?
Haha, we are dreaming, we know. History classes are for learning why America is a special country that God loves the most.