Monday, February 23, 2015

Oklahoma Wants to Change the Programm(ing) of Its Students

So, Oklahoma politicians want to ban AP US History. This a blatant attempt at thought-policing and its bold-faced, out-loud attempt at changing the "program" of our kids' thinking is evidence that we live in a pre-Orwellian world.

For those who might not know, AP courses (advanced placement) are college-level courses taught to the best high school students. If these students score a certain number on the tests, they may be offered college credit in the university of their choice. I happen to teach AP English Literature and Composition and I am also the AP coordinator for my school, so I know something of the challenge-level and rigmarole of the program. 

One of the things that people seem not to care about is that these courses are designed also to foster critical thinking and perception in the students who take them. They are meant to teach kids to think well. But, typical to modern American thought, all anyone seems to care about are practical results: credit for college; higher GPA points... (Don't get me started... Wait...I already got me started... Never mind.) 

Now, it's about "patriotism." All of a sudden, we care about more than grades and college discounts and class rank. "All of a sudden," of course, when the "wrong" political or social perspectives might be getting fostered because, well...think of how that might change voting results!

Not a fan of memes, in general,
but -- how much of this is true? 
Those who seek to ban the course have decided to do so because they claim the new guidelines are not patriotic enough and that they dwell more on the negatives in the country's past than on the positives. The conservative opposers of the course have leaned upon what I am always suspicious of as a crutch meant to carry a prejudiced limp: no mention of King or Rosa Parks. (Too many truly prejudiced people speak too highly of those two, if you ask me. Those two are the historical equivalent of "I have a lot of black friends.") In fairness, they also oppose the fact that the Founding Fathers get no mention, along with the Declaration, the Constritution and the Emancipation Proclamation. 

As the College Board responded, however, what the Oklahoma politicians are responding to are guidelines -- guidelines -- put out by AP for teachers which are meant to help those teachers to prepare the students for success on the test. That's it.

And, as a radio commentator pointed out this morning, many of the topics or the people "left out" of the guidelines have been covered ad nauseam in previous American history courses. THeir absence doesn't imply a lack of importance, just a lack of emphasis due to background education and the content of this year's particular test. Oklahoma's is a classic knee-jerk reaction driven by political agenda and ideology...

...which leads me to this question: When did academics become an unabashed device of the State? Let's face it -- history teaching has always been patriotically slanted and shaded toward justifying the powers that be. But, are we now going to go public with this? Are we now going to say, out loud, "We don't like the way you are informing our kids. We want you to use our program. If you don't, we will deprive our kids of a tool for growth and for financial assistance for their education simply because we don't think it teaches our brand of patriotism. "

Yes, we are going to go public with it. You know why? Because we now can. Because people have come so far in sacrificing their individuality and their right to non-groupthink philosophy that they will stand for this. Governmental leaders now know what they can get away with. As it stands, if the powers-that-be don't like a philosophy, they are willing to publicly shut it down. 

This isn't frightening to anyone? No -- at least not to enough people. This is how we become every dystopian nightmare that science fiction has warned us about since Orwell. 

I don't know. I always thought education should be about open dialogue and fostering of independent though for debate. I always thought the study of history was a puzzle piece to understanding human action and human nature, not a device for turning children into followers of the "right" philosophy. Apparently I was wrong. It must be about uploading kids with the proper "patriotic" perspective on the past.

Maybe I shouldn't question Oklahoma. Their educational system is such a solid one. Forty-one out of fifty-one ain't bad, right?


  1. An interesting post, which throws up so many questions about how we construct narratives about our nations and how history is so-often subservient to a political agenda.

    The US is a particularly interesting example because it has always been in a state of flux and whilst its history has traditional been written by the winners - the WASPs - there are more voices clamouring to be heard. I think the next election will be between the two narratives, as much as between the two parties. The changing demographics seem to be on the side of the Democrats, but the astonishing vitriol against Obama (who from the outside, has been a success in many ways) may see a Republican revival.

  2. I think you are right about the coming Republican revival. I base this on the increasing amount of horrible country music my band is now forced to play on jobs. Not a politically scientific basis for conclusion, but...there it is. That said, I do see such alarming attempts of groups to control which narratives are "allowed" (in a country that is supposed to be based on freedom of expression) that I begin to truly be afraid of what sort of a country my sons will some day know.