Wouldn’t it be nice if your life came with a delete button? If all those embarrassing
things you said or did could be eliminated with a key stroke and revised accordingly?
That seems to be the ambition of conservatives in their dispute with the College Board
over a set of revised guidelines for teaching AP American History. Sadly, for those of
us who value intellectual freedom, they may have succeeded.
In response to conservative outrage following the release of the “new framework” in 2014,
the Republican National Committee passed a resolution that denounced it as
a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes
negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing
In particular, conservatives were displeased that slavery received more emphasis than
the Founding Fathers, and that violence against Native Americans got mentioned, as did
the rise of social conservatism. (In historicizing a political ideology it ceases to be seen as
Rather than debate whether the revised guidelines are in fact “unpatriotic,” as conservatives
alleged, the College Board has agreed to amend them. Among other things, the new version
will embrace such problematic concepts as “manifest destiny” and “American Exceptionalism.”
Thus, what conservatives have won, in contesting the framework for teaching it, is a preferred
reading of American history. That is, our collective story, but shaped by their set of values.
What happens to that story when a state like Texas changes its guidelines so that textbooks
are no longer required to mention ugly things like the KKK or Jim Crow laws? Do we not
then go back to teaching students American history as the derring do of white, wealthy men?