The battle over the College Board’s standards for its Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History course reflects not only our political polarization but also some profound moral disputes. Defenders of the new course dismiss its critics as people who want to sanitize America’s past. But that response is off target. The real issue is whether the curriculum will teach a dogmatic progressivism or introduce students to a variety of opinions about the individuals, ideas and institutions that shaped American history.
Are we a country that models and defends liberty for the world, or should we be a humbler and more collaborative member of the family of nations? Shall we hold equality as a universal standard of right derived from nature or from God? Or are the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence merely cultural preferences whose universalization entails the domination of others?
These and other such questions divide Americans and are worth thoughtful examination. But the new framework for the teaching of AP U.S. History encourages nothing of the kind. It simply echoes the more liberal or left-leaning answers.
The bias is obvious in some places, as when the 19th-century belief in manifest destiny is presented as a regrettable example of “cultural superiority,” rather than an attempt to expand and defend the realm of liberty.
Elsewhere the bias is subtle, as when Cold War debates are framed as disagreements over how much power to grant the “military-industrial complex,” instead of how strongly to stand against the Soviet threat. Liberal activists are portrayed as “responding to alarming environmental problems,” whereas conservatives are depicted as “fearing delinquency, unrest, and challenges to the family.” Why not present conservatives as responding with reason rather than fear to significant increases of crime and divorce? More hawkish U.S. foreign policy is typically described as the subject of vigorous debate, while developments such as the student counterculture of the 1960s are presented as uncontroversial progress. ...