Why Oklahoma’s AP U.S. History Ban Damages Students

By Javin Dana '17

The Oklahoma AP U.S. History ban, which was initiated by Republican party members rather than teachers or students, threatens public school students, teachers, and the history curriculum.

The ability to teach one side or angle of history has always been the prerogative of those in power, yet even under those circumstances, historians and politicians in Oklahoma constantly debate the material taught in U.S. History curriculums. Furthermore, in recent years, the House of Representatives has scrutinized and harshly budgeted public education, considering it to be a sort of liability. As such, it came as little surprise that the same politicians began to criticize the new Advanced Placement U.S. history framework for allegedly discounting “American Exceptionalism,” and using quite a bit of public funding.

Politicians, such as Oklahoma House representative Daniel Fisher, claim that the AP U.S. History curriculum downplays the “positive elements of American history”, and dwell far too much on its negatives. The problem with such claims is that the issues covered in U.S. history have never been truly been “black and white”—aside from the flagrant abuse and misuse of power against African-American individuals by the United States’ overwhelmingly white populous throughout the first 240 years of its existence.

The 2013-2014 AP U.S History curriculum was more widely accepted by political parties in the mid-west and southern United States. (Photo: Warren Chu/Flickr)

The 2013-2014 AP U.S History curriculum was more widely accepted by political parties in the mid-west and southern United States. (Photo: Warren Chu/Flickr)

This means that when teaching AP U.S. History, the upsides and downsides of the United-States’ initiatives and actions are to be discussed, rather than eroded and chiseled down to a single, easily digestible point. The purpose of the 2014-2015 curriculums was to offer multiple points of view for the students to process consider, but Republican party members viewed it as an attack on the United States’ reputation and history.

In Oklahoma, the criticism took the form of House Bill 1380, sponsored by Fisher. The bill declared that the 2014-2015 AP U.S. History framework posed a risk to “public peace, health and safety,” and as such, public funding should be removed until the curriculum is altered significantly. Oklahoma teachers resisted the bill, stating that students deserve a full grasp of history, rather than a skewed image.

“We are a wonderfully diverse state. But the Tulsa race riots, the Trail of Tears—those things happened. We can’t sanitize history,” stated Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, during an interview with Newsweek.

Essentially, the AP U.S. history ban followed the path of American nationalism, erasing the abuse of different minority groups and events such as the coup in Chile, and substituting moments of success in their stead. Given that politicians continually complain about East-Asian education programs for “obscuring the truth,” it is not only surprising, but daunting that they would advocate for a similar history program.

Teachers, students and parents protested the bill across Oklahoma and the other states being affected by the “APUSH Ban,” namely Colorado, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and North Carolina. However, contrary to public opinion on the issue, during a three-hour meeting, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed the bill with 11 votes in favor and four against.

In the wake of Bill 1380, many students have lost the college application opportunities they initially earned through the AP program, as there is no other cost-efficient alternative. The AP program helped students appeal to well-renowned colleges and universities. Currently, with the APUSH ban still active, only private schools boast any AP U.S. History programs. However, given that private schools in Oklahoma seldom offer scholarships, and the annual price required for students attending these schools is extremely high, many of the students hoping to take an AP U.S. History course are now unable. Additionally, many teachers of these programs lost their jobs, and the AP curriculum was left truncated.

Some politicians argued that with the budget cuts to the schools in Oklahoma in recent years, it made logical sense to cut a few “less useful” AP programs. However, the budget still held a few million dollars that had not been allocated before they cut the AP U.S. history program, indicating that the reasoning most likely originated from the personalized, radically “Pro-American” views of politicians backing the bill,  rather than financial circumstances. Critics of the bill widely consider it a misuse of representative power by the House, and a degradation of the AP program.

The AP programs have been used in recent history to provide better educational opportunities for students with poor financial situations, thus by cutting the APUSH program, many students will have to take placement tests in order to even be considered for a similar level course.

Reasonably, parents, students and teachers in the Oklahoma community were outraged, and as such, a group of students began a petition on Change.org hoping to convince lawmakers to change their stance on the AP U.S. History curriculum.

According to an article in the New York Magazine, one of the students, Moin Nadeem, stated, “It’s our right to learn. The state can’t say what we can and what we can’t learn.”

Similar fear and uncertainty has recently spread across Oklahoma’s neighboring states, as students and educators remain unsure about the future of their own AP U.S. History frameworks.

As of now, Oklahoma’s House of Representatives has not changed its stance on the AP U.S. History Ban.

Not only will the petition hopefully bring a change to the haphazard discounting of U.S. history, but grant students and teachers with the classes they need to better their future college and work opportunities.

The petition can be found here.