Analysis of the College Board AP U.S. History Framework
Analysis of the College Board AP U.S. History Framework
By Larry Krieger
UNIT 1: 1491 - 1607
The College Board Framework begins its 9-unit chronological coverage of Advanced Placement (AP) American history by requiring teachers to devote 5 percent of their classroom time, or 9 lessons, to the period from 1491 to 1607. On first glance this seems to be a highly unusual and even extravagant use of valuable class time. After all, high school state-approved frameworks typically begin with the founding of the Southern, Middle Atlantic, and New England colonies. It is also important to keep in mind that the Framework devotes the same amount of time to the period from 1491 to 1607 as it does to the period from 1980 to the present.
The College Board’s decision to devote 5 percent of the AP U.S. History course to the period from 1491 to 1607 did not happen by accident. The College Board curriculum writers use this time period to establish a global picture that introduces Native Americans, West Africans, and Spaniards. Once contact is established among these three groups the Spanish use their superior weapons to conquer the Aztecs and Incas and transport West African slaves to newly established sugar plantations in the West Indies.
AP U.S. History students may be forgiven if they are wondering why so many valuable lessons are being devoted to topics that actually precede the traditional starting point of colonial American history. A glance at their schedule will tell them that they enrolled in AP American History and not AP Western Hemispheric History.
The Framework’s global approach actually has a very important purpose. It enables the curriculum writers to establish their key theme that European exploitation led to native decline and black bondage. The Framework explains that, “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians using several different rationales.” Once established, this negative view of American history becomes the dominant theme in the Framework. As we will document, the new College Board Framework is far more interested in the concepts of superiority and conflict than it is in the concept of cooperation and unity.
UNIT 2: 1607 – 1754
The College Board justifies the need for a revised AP U.S. History Framework by proudly boasting that their new course of study will “help teachers to prioritize among the possible topics to cover across the scope of U.S. history.”
The Framework’s focus on “key concepts” will “relieve the pressure for teachers to cover all possible events and details of U.S. history at a superficial level.” The concepts discussed in the Framework thus form “the required knowledge for each period.” It is important to carefully note the phrase “the required knowledge.” The College Board has in effect supplanted local and state curriculums by unilaterally assuming the authority “to prioritize” historical topics. This inevitably means that some topics will be magnified in importance while others are minimized.
The period between 1607 and 1754 provides a particularly glaring example of the Framework’s biased approach to U.S. history. Known as the Colonial period, this era witnessed the development of a distinctive American identity. What fundamental characteristics will the Framework identity as being essential parts of the American character?
The Framework authors begin their presentation of the Colonial period by asking teachers to compare and contrast the different social and economic goals of the 17th century Spanish, French, Dutch, and British colonizers. We are then told that unlike other European colonizers the British-American colonies were characterized by the development of “a rigid racial hierarchy” (page 27). This rigid social structure is in turn derived from “a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority” (page 28). This sense of “cultural superiority” inevitably leads “the British colonies into violent confrontations with native peoples” (page 28).
The Framework’s emphasis upon British cultural superiority, slavery, and conflict with native peoples forms the core content of a three-week unit that comprises 10 percent of the course. At this point many irate and perplexed readers may wonder whatever happened to traditional subjects such as meetings of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Puritans mission to build “a city upon a hill,” and the contributions of leaders such as Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin. The alarming answer is that the Framework either minimizes or simply omits these fundamental topics.
The Framework’s unbalanced and biased coverage of the Colonial era represents a radical departure from its existing topical outline and from state and local curriculum guides. While students will learn a great deal about the Beaver Wars, the Chickasaw Wars, the Pueblo Revolt, and King Philip’s War, they will learn little or nothing about the rise of religious toleration, the development of democratic institutions, and the emergence of a society that included a rich mix of ethnic groups and the absence of a hereditary aristocracy. The Framework blatantly ignores such pivotal historic figures as Roger Williams and Benjamin Franklin and such key developments as the emergence of New England town meetings and the Virginia House of Burgesses as cradles of democracy.
The absence of coverage on the development of religious toleration is a particularly egregious flaw. Freedom of religion is one of America’s greatest contributions to world civilization. Yet, inexplicably the Framework omits the Pilgrims, mentions the Quakers once, and fails to discuss the importance of religious dissenters such as Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams and the consequences of the First Great Awakening.
Thomas Jefferson described New England town meetings as “the best school of political liberty the world ever saw.” Jefferson was right. We encourage parents, teachers, and students to attend local meetings and ask school and political officials if the new College Board AP U.S. History Framework is aligned with their locally mandated courses of study. If it is not, then the public has a right and a responsibility to demand that the College Board rescind the new Framework and adopt a more appropriate course of study.
UNIT 3: 1754 – 1800
At the present time, a five-page outline provides AP U.S. History teachers with a clear chronological list of topics that they should cover in their courses. This traditional outline conforms to the sequence of topics approved by state and local boards of education. In contrast, the new redesigned Framework provides a detailed 98-page document that defines, discusses, and interprets “the required knowledge of each period.” The College Board has thus unilaterally assumed the authority to replace local and state guidelines with its own biased curriculum guide. These biases can be clearly seen in how the Framework emphasizes, deemphasizes, and omits selected topics in the period from 1754 to 1800.
The Framework begins this critical period of American history with a full page devoted to how “various American Indian groups repeatedly evaluated and adjusted their alliances, with Europeans, other tribes, and the new United States government” (page 32). The Framework then generously grants teachers the flexibility to discuss Pontiac’s Rebellion and Chief Little Turtle (page 32).
While the Framework emphasizes “new white-Indian conflicts along the western borders (page 36) and “the seizure of Indian lands” (page 37), it all but ignores George Washington’s life and indispensible contributions to American history. Although Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen,” he merits only one random Framework reference: “Although George Washington’s Farewell Address warned about the dangers of divisive political parties and permanent foreign alliances, European conflict and tensions with Britain and France fueled increasingly bitter partisan debates throughout the 1790s” (page 34).To put this glaring omission into perspective, imagine how South Africans would respond if an unelected agency issued a history of their country that contained just one reference to Nelson Mandela.
The Framework’s decision to all but omit George Washington extends to his command of the Continental Army. Most state and local curriculum guides require teachers to discuss the significance of Valley Forge and the battles of Sarasota and Yorktown. Instead, the College Board Framework completely ignores all Revolutionary War battles and commanders. Veterans and their families will by dismayed to discover that this is not an oversight. In fact, the College Board ignores military history from the Revolutionary War to the present day. Students will thus not learn about the valor and sacrifices of the Army of Northern Virginia, the Army of the Potomac, the Rough Riders, the doughboys, the GI’s, and the servicemen and women who fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The Framework’s superficial coverage of the Revolutionary War is typical of this poorly organized unit. For example, the Framework devotes just one sentence to the Declaration of Independence (page 34). John Adams later wrote that “the Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.” While the College Board Framework invites teachers to discuss “the architecture of Spanish missions” (page 34), it does not invite teachers to fully explore the republican ideals that motivated America’s founders. Confused students may wonder what cause motivated the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the soldiers at Valley Forge, and the framers at Independence Hall to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and their “sacred honor.” For example, Richard Morris risked his life and sacrificed his fortune to promote the cause of freedom.
UNIT 4: 1800 – 1848
On first glance the new AP U.S. History Framework appears to be an impressive course of study. The 98-page document includes 9 coded skills, 8 coded themes, and 27 key concepts. But looks are deceiving. In reality, the redesigned College Board Framework is a biased, poorly organized document that often neglects important traditional topics. It provides a dry and uninspiring course of study that ignores the California Social Science Framework’s famous exhortation to emphasize “the importance of history as a story well told.” These weaknesses can all be clearly seen in the College Board Framework’s treatment of the period from 1800 to 1848.
The origins, development, and extension of America’s commitment to democratic rights and values should occupy a prominent place in any U.S. history course. Unfortunately, the College Board Framework consistently fails to address this crucial theme. As we have pointed out in our earlier articles, the Framework ignored both the House of Burgesses and New England town meetings as vital cradles of democracy. Unit 4 continues this shameful neglect by completely ignoring both Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy. The Framework fails to note that Jefferson’s electoral victory marked a historic peaceful transfer of power and that Jackson’s presidency marked the rise of the common man and a significant expansion of the suffrage.
Although Jacksonian democracy did not attract the interest of the Framework authors, it did attract the interest of the famous French political philosopher and historian Alexis de Tocqueville. In 1831, de Tocqueville travelled to America seeking to understand what he described as “the image of democracy itself.” In his classic book Democracy in America de Tocqueville wrote that the most striking characteristic of American democracy was “the general equality of condition of the people.” As the first great analysis of American exceptionalism, excerpts from Democracy in American should be a required part of the AP U.S. History curriculum. Instead, the College Board Framework chooses to omit de Tocqueville and instead emphasize that “resistance to initiatives for democracy and inclusion included proslavery arguments, rising xenophobia, antiblack sentiments in political and popular culture, and restrictive anti-Indian policies” (page 39).
The Framework’s biased view of American history is not limited to domestic events. Issued in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine became the cornerstone of American foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere. It is important to remember that Monroe’s famous doctrine made a distinction between republican government in American and monarchical government in Europe. Monroe warned the European powers that the Western Hemisphere was no longer open to colonization. Issued at a time when American military power was relatively weak, the Monroe Doctrine was nonetheless a bold statement of America’s intent to defend and support democracy in the Western Hemisphere. This is not, however, how the College Board Framework interprets the Monroe Doctrine. According to the Framework, “The U.S. sought dominance over the North American continent through a variety of means, including military actions, judicial decisions, and diplomatic efforts” (page 42). The phrase “diplomatic efforts” apparently refers to the Monroe Doctrine since the Framework then grants teachers the flexibility to use the Monroe Doctrine as an example of their point about America’s intent to assert its “dominance over the North American continent.”
American history contains numerous examples of men and women whose struggles and achievements have enriched our history. The period between 1800 and 1848 includes a particularly fascinating group of forceful personalities. For example, Dorothea Dix launched a crusade to create special hospitals for the mentally ill, William Lloyd Garrison galvanized a movement to abolish slavery, and Henry Clay crafted compromises to reduce sectional tensions. Although all three of these leaders have generated questions on previous AP U.S. History exams, they now join Jefferson, Jackson, and de Tocqueville in being relegated to the sidelines of AP U.S. History.
The College Board’s list of omissions does not end with key political leaders and social reformers. Unit 4 either omits or fails to adequately discuss the Louisiana Purchase, the opening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the impact of the Erie Canal and the rise of Transcendentalism. It is important to note that all of these topics have traditionally been tested on many AP U.S. History exams. Their omission raises troubling questions about the Framework’s biased agenda and its inability to provide an authentic portrait of the American story.
Unit 4 begins in 1800 and then deliberately chooses 1848 “as an ending point because of the Seneca Falls Convention” (page 20). The Seneca Falls Convention is a watershed event that marked the beginning of the women’s rights movement in the United States. Despite their decision to end Unit 4 in 1848, the Framework authors actually begin the unit with a brief indirect reference to the convention as a voluntary organization that promoted women’s rights. As a result, the Framework neglects leaders such as Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and their seminal Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. The Framework authors then provide yet another example of the document’s poor organization by concluding Unit 4 with the Missouri Compromise of 1820!
UNIT 5: 1844 – 1877
The fifth unit in the College Board’s AP U.S. History Framework covers the period from 1844 to 1877. The Framework recommends that teachers devote 13 percent or about 23 days to this era. The Framework’s badly flawed unit provides vivid and disturbing examples of the document’s biased political agenda and unexplained omissions that ignore state and local guidelines. Taken together these flaws will leave students with a distorted and incomplete picture of how American history unfolded.
All state U.S. history curriculum guides include a unit on Westward expansion and the concept of Manifest Destiny. Textbooks have traditionally defined Manifest Destiny as a belief that America was destined to extend its democratic institutions, agricultural advances and technological innovations across the continent. In contrast, here is how the College Board Framework defines Manifest Destiny: “The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates” (page 44).
This is not an isolated or careless definition. As we have documented, the Framework uses the theme of “a belief in white superiority” (page 25) to serve as a foundation for its biased and objectionable portrayal of American society and culture.
The Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War are key parts in story of America’s westward expansion. Despite their obvious historic significance, the Framework completely omits events in Texas and reduces the Mexican-American War to a mere sentence fragment. Since the Framework ignores the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo confused students are presumably left to find out for themselves how the United States acquired over 500,000 square miles of new territory that included present day Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado.
The Mexican-American War transformed the United States into a continental nation and ignited a bitter dispute about the extension of slavery into the new western territories. Instead of continuing this compelling story, the Framework directs student attention to the fact that “substantial numbers of new international migrants…entered the country prior to the Civil War” (page 45). These unnamed “international migrants” were predominately immigrants from Ireland and Germany. The Framework ignores the fact that these immigrants came to American to escape famine and political persecution in their homelands. Instead of emphasizing America’s historic role as a refuge for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” the Framework emphasizes that the newcomers encountered a “violent nativist movement that was strongly anti-Catholic and aimed at limiting immigrants’ cultural influence and political and economic power.”
Responsible curriculum guides should acknowledge that Irish immigrants did experience prejudice and discrimination. However, in its zeal to emphasize the negative, the Framework fails to provide a balanced presentation. For example, the Framework should note the key role that Irish immigrants played in the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States and the formation of powerful big city political machines.
After its digress about immigration, the Framework returns to the sequence of events that led to the Civil War. Although the Framework identifies historical causation as one of nine featured “historical thinking skills” it inexplicably omits key events that form an essential part of the momentous chain of actions and decisions that led to the firing on Fort Sumter. The Framework’s list of causal events is limited to just the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Dred Scott decision (page 46). While these events are very important, the Framework inexcusably omits the role played by the contentious debates over the Wilmot Proviso, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, popular sovereignty, Bleeding Kansas, and John Brown’s raid. Taken together these events form essential parts of what the renowned Civil War historian Bruce Catton called “the coming fury.”
In its comprehensive analysis of state curriculum standards, the Fordham Institute concludes that good standards identify and dramatize the achievements of exemplary leaders. Based upon this criteria, the College Board Framework is a dismal failure. As we have documented, the Framework systematically ignores key leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. Unit 5 continues this shameful pattern of omission by reducing Abraham Lincoln’s career to two brief fragments. The Framework apparently believes that the only things students need to know about Lincoln is that he was elected president in 1860 and issued the Emancipation Proclamation three years later. For reasons that are not explained, the College Board Framework omits the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, and his Reconstruction Plan.
Unit 5 concludes with a section that includes both the Civil War and Reconstruction. Incredibly, these two topics are scheduled to generate a combined total of eight 45-minute lessons. The Framework actually devotes as much attention and classroom time to pre-Columbian native populations (see page 23) as it does to the Civil War (see page 47). The Framework’s superficial and uninspired coverage of the Civil War is an affront to the over 600,000 Americans who died in an epic struggle that historian Eric Foner calls “the central moment in American history.”
UNIT 6: 1865 – 1898
The College Board boasts that its redesigned AP U.S. History Framework focuses on “big picture” concepts rather than “minute details.” As we have documented, the College Board has in fact presented teachers with a distorted “big picture” of American history that repeatedly portrays the American story in a negative light while at the same time omitting traditional topics required by state and local guidelines.
Unit 6 covers the period from 1865 to 1898. The Framework recommends that teachers devote 13 percent of their course or about 23 forty-five minute periods to this era. Known as the Gilded Age, this era is literally bursting with compelling personalities, watershed technological achievements, and controversial events. The College Board’s five-page discussion of the Gilded Age conveys none of this dramatic creativity and tension. Instead, readers are presented with bland but generally negative generalities that repeatedly omit significant events, achievements, and personalities.
The redesigned Framework demotes the “New South” from a full unit in the current topical outline to a brief sentence fragment. The Framework states that although unnamed Southern leaders called for their region to industrialize, “agrarian sharecropping and tenant farming systems continued to dominate the region” (page 50). We learn three pages later that the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson sanctioned national policies of discrimination and segregation (page 53). Surprisingly, the Framework omits a discussion of how Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois responded to New South economic and racial policies. Many readers will be astonished and dismayed to discover that the Framework contains no references to W.E.B. Du Bois.
The Framework’s treatment of developments in the West is similarly superficial and negative. The construction of the first transcontinental railroads provides a major example of American enterprise and ingenuity. The transcontinental railroads played a key role in unifying the country in the post-Civil War years. But not in the College Board Framework! Here is what the College Board authors want American students to know about the transcontinental railroads: “As transcontinental railroads were completed, bringing more settlers west, U.S. military actions, destruction of the buffalo, the confinement of American Indians to reservations, and assimilationist policies reduced the number of American Indians and threatened native culture and identity” (page 52).
In 1890, the superintendent of the U.S. Census issued a statement declaring that the western frontier had closed. This finding intrigued Frederick Jackson Turner, a young history professor at the University of Wisconsin. In a famous essay entitled, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” Turner argued that the western frontier shaped the American character by promoting democracy and encouraging individualism. While the significance of the frontier intrigued Turner, it apparently does not interest the Framework authors. Although the Framework boldly claims that its goal is to “encourage students to become apprentice historians,” it omits one of the most famous essays in American historiography.
As the western frontier experience drew to an end a new urban frontier began to emerge. During the first decades of the 19th century, urban centers assumed an increasingly dominant role in American life and culture. Although the Framework authors recognize this trend, they omit the pioneering work of such major urban reformers as Jacob Riis and Jane Addams. It is important to note that Riis and Addams have been among the most tested figures on previous AP U.S. History exams. Their omission from the redesigned Framework provides yet another glaring example of the Framework’s failure to highlight the positive contributions of inspiring American leaders.
As we have seen, the Framework authors have no commitment to providing students with compelling personalities and dramatic events. Gilded Age politics reached a climax with the riveting presidential election of 1896 that featured a contest between William Jennings Bryan and William McKinley. Many people believed that this climatic battle between the free silverites led by Bryan and the sound money advocates led by McKinley would determine the nation’s fate for generations to come. Apparently the Framework authors disagree with this assessment since they completely ignore the watershed election of 1896. They must believe that there is no reason for students to learn that McKinley’s victory began a generation of almost unbroken Republican dominance that lasted until the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.
The three decades following the Civil War witnessed a dramatic burst of economic prosperity that transformed America into the world’s foremost industrial power. The success of inventors such as Thomas Edison and entrepreneurs such as Andrew Carnegie demonstrated that America was still a land of opportunity. For the millions of immigrants who poured into America during this period, America was a country where anyone who worked hard could achieve success. As we have repeatedly seen, the Framework has very little to say about the American Dream and its achievements.
UNIT 7: 1890 – 1945
The current AP U.S. History Course Description booklet provides teachers with a well-organized chronological sequence of topics. In contrast, the units in the redesigned College Board Framework are often an unteachable hodgepodge of topics and generalities.
The lack of a coherent topical outline is a particular problem in Unit 7. This unit covers the period from the Progressive Era to the end of World War II. Here is the actual sequence of topics are they are presented in the College Board Framework: first the Great Depression (1930’s), then back to the Progressive Era (1900 to 1919), followed by the New Deal (1930s), and then back to the Roaring Twenties (1920s), the Harlem Renaissance (1920s), the Red Scare (1919) and population movements (1920–1945), and then all the way back to the Spanish-American War (1898), and then forward to World War I (1914–1919), and finally and very briefly to World War II (1941–1945). I
would give an F to any high school student who turned in such as disconnected and egregiously flawed outline. And yet, the College Board is presenting this inept rough draft as an authoritative guide for American’s top students and teachers.
The six-page Unit 7 presentation is more than a disorganized jumble of topics. It also omits and deemphasizes many vital leaders and events. For example, historians agree that Theodore Roosevelt’s dynamic leadership revitalized the presidency. While TR is honored as one of four presidents immortalized on Mount Rushmore, he has been completely excised from the College Board Framework. This astonishing omission means that the Framework totally omits TR’s role as a trust buster, conservationist, consumer protector, builder of the Panama Canal, and author of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. It is important to note that question about TR’s presidency have always played a prominent role on AP U.S. History exams. The College Board’s decision to delete TR is outrageous, inexplicable, and unacceptable.
The Framework’s omission of TR’s presidency is followed by a disjointed and incomplete treatment of World War I. The Framework does address such negative consequences of the war as the Red Scare and what it calls “a repressive atmosphere for civil liberties” (page 56). However, the Framework pays scant attention to the sequence of events that led President Wilson to ask a special session of Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. Unit 7 marginalizes the role of the American Expeditionary Force by stating that it “played a relatively limited role in the war” (page 58). This is historically incorrect. When the American forces arrived in France the German juggernaut had reached to within forty miles of Paris. The spirited American doughboys relieved the battle-fatigued French army and spearheaded a powerful counterattack that led to Germany’s surrender. It is important to remember that 10 percent of America’s 1.2 million soldiers died or were wounded to defend freedom in western Europe. This sacrifice can hardly be called a “limited role.”
Led by the California Framework, many state curriculum guides emphasize the importance of using literature to enrich the study of history. The redesigned Framework provides incomplete coverage of key literary developments between 1920 and 1940. It does single out the Harlem Renaissance for special attention. However, the Framework completely omits Lost Generation authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Sinclair Lewis. It also omits all coverage of the Dust Bowl. As a result, students are not asked to read excerpts from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or study Dorothea Lange’s poignant pictures of migrant workers.
The Framework concludes Unit 7 with a hopelessly inadequate four-sentence section on World War II (page 59). World War II literally appears out of nowhere. The Framework provides no discussion of the rise of fascist aggression in Japan and Europe. As a result, students are not expected to learn about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Munich Conference, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Lend-Lease Act, or Hitler’s atrocities against Jews and other groups.
World War II should provide an opportunity for teachers to underscore what Americans can accomplish when they work together for a common goal. However, the College Board authors have little interest in positive achievements and the themes of unity and cooperation. Instead, they are primarily interested in victims and not heroes. Here is what the Framework authors want students to know about the home front during World War II:
“Wartime experiences, such as the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”
As we have documented, the College Board Framework consistently omits all examples of the sacrifices and valor of American soldiers and their commanders. The treatment of World War II is no exception. Members of the “Greatest Generation” and their families will find no mention of such turning points as the Battle of Midway Island and the D-Day invasion or the decisions of Allied commanders such as Dwight Eisenhower. During the initial assault on Omaha Beach, the American commander realized that the invasion force had to push ahead or suffer intolerable casualties. He then called upon his troops to demonstrate extraordinary valor with this legendary command: “Rangers lead the way!” No such inspirational stories appear in the Framework. Instead, the College Board authors quickly wrap up their coverage of World War II and led the way to a flawed unit on the period from 1945 to 1980.
UNIT 8: 1945 – 1980
The College Board’s AP U.S. History Framework declares that the course “is designed to encourage students to become apprentice historians” (page 1). The Framework intends to achieve this goal by systematically teaching such essential skills as causation, periodization, and the ability to identify historic turning points. Unfortunately, the Framework authors continue to demonstrate a woeful inability to organize content into meaningful chronological periods, shaped by the decisions of compelling personalities, and climaxed by watershed historic events.
Unit 8 opens by devoting the following sentence to the Cold War in Europe: “The United States developed a foreign policy based on collective security and a multilateral economic framework that bolstered non-Communist nations” (page 60). This sweeping generalization ignores how the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe, Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech, and George Kennan’s influential recommendation to adopt a policy of containment persuaded President Truman to issue the momentous Truman Doctrine. The Truman Doctrine committed the United States to support “free peoples” resisting Communist aggression. As the leader of the Free World, the United States formed the NATO alliance to defend Western Europe and funded the Marshall Plan to revive the region’s war-torn economy. Needless to say, the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin did not allow these American initiatives to go untested. On June 24, 1948 the Soviets suddenly cut off all highway and railroad traffic into West Berlin. The Berlin Blockade represented the first great test of Cold War wills between the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite the event’s historic importance, the Framework ignores America’s dramatic and successful airlift that forced Stalin to back down and reopen transportation routes into West Berlin.
After dispatching Cold War events in Europe in one sentence, the Framework authors devote the following sentence to the wars in Korea and Vietnam: “The United States sought to ‘contain’ Soviet-dominated communism through a variety of measures including military engagements in Korea and Vietnam” (page 60). The decision to combine the Korean War and the Vietnam War into a single sentence is historically untenable and pedagogically confusing. While both wars are part of America’s Cold War policies, they have very different causes and consequences. The Framework’s severely truncated coverage omits major topics such as the Truman-MacArthur controversy, McCarthyism, the domino theory, and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that have generated a significant number of questions on previous AP exams. And, finally, it is very important to note that the Framework once again omits all mentions of the contributions of American servicemen and women.
After reducing the Cold War in Europe and Asia to just two sentences, the Framework provides teachers with the following sentence about events in Latin America: “Cold War competition extended to Latin America, where the U.S. supported non-Communist regimes with varying levels of commitment to democracy” (page 60). This ambiguous sentence apparently alludes to the events following the Cuban Revolution of 1959. It is not clear why the Framework authors do not specifically refer to Cuba. It is clear, however, that the Framework fails to discuss Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Civil Rights Movement dominated domestic events during most of the period covered by Unit 8. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., black and white activists formed a “coalition of conscience” to press for an end to Jim Crow segregation laws. Astonishingly, the Framework fails to mention Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, President Eisenhower, the Little Rock school crisis, President Kennedy, and the Birmingham demonstrations. Even more astonishingly, the Framework never mentions King and his role in these events. It is interesting to note that while the Framework neglects to include King, it does remember to grant teachers the flexibility to discuss the Black Panthers (page 63).
The 1950s and 60s witnessed a number of historic achievements that demonstrated American ingenuity, determination, and generosity. For example, the GI Bill of Rights opened college doors to millions of World War II veterans, the Salt vaccine freed millions of families from the fear of polio, the Interstate Highway System fueled economic growth, and the Apollo Project thrilled people around the world with by successfully landing the first person on the moon. The Framework fails to note any of these historic accomplishments. As we have documented, the Framework repeatedly fails to acknowledge our nation’s achievements. Apparently, the Framework’s goal of encouraging “students to become apprentice historians” (page 1) does not include inspiring them to become proud citizens.
Although Unit 8 purports to cover the period from 1945 to 1980, it fails to provide teachers with a coherent discussion of the 1970s. Amazingly, the Framework never mentions either President Nixon or President Carter. The document’s failure to discuss the achievements and failures of the Nixon administration leaves a significant void in the narrative. Readers who examine Unit 8 will find no references to Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization, his historic trip to China, or how he mobilized the “Silent Majority” to support his policies. On the last line of Unit 8 the Framework does grant teachers the freedom to discuss Watergate. However, this random reference seems completely misplaced and fails to present the causes and consequences of the Watergate scandal in their proper historic context.
Unit 8 does include several references to the new conservative movement and its growing challenge to liberalism. These scattered references do not form a coherent narrative that is anchored in specific events and compelling personalities. For example, Unit 8 ignores the role played by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan in the rise of the conservative movement. Since the unit also contains no discussion of how the soaring rate of inflation and the Iran hostage crisis damaged President Carter’s popularity, students will be unprepared to understand the appeal of Reagan’s famous question, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”
The College Board’s redesigned Framework repeatedly ignores the California Framework’s famous emphasis upon “the importance of history as a story well told.” The period of time covered in Unit 8 features a number of dramatic stories including the Berlin Airlift, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. King, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Unit 8 fails to discuss any of these events. Instead of concluding with the climatic story of Reagan’s overwhelming victory in the 1980 presidential election, Unit 8 ends with a discussion of how “New demographic and social issues led to significant political and moral debates that sharply divided the nation” (page 64).
UNIT 9: 1980 – Present
Unit 9 covers the period from 1980 to the present. The Framework’s scope and sequence chart recommends that teachers devote 5 percent of their course, or nine 45-minute classes to this unit. The College Board thus assigns as much importance to our current era as it does to the period from 1491 to 1607 covered in Unit 1.
The College Board’s decision to devote just 5 percent of the course to Unit 9 has a number of unfortunate consequences. First, it sends a powerful message to students that current American history isn’t important. Second, it sends a powerful message to teachers that they can safely skip this unit since it will not be tested in either the long-essay question or the document-based question (page 69). And finally, it sent a powerful message to the Framework writers that they could compress their coverage of this time period into three “key concepts” that did not have to be supported with a focused discussion of significant leaders, terms, and events.
Unit 9 opens with a key concept devoted to the rise of what the Framework calls “a new conservatism.” Although Unit 9 is supposed to be focused on the period from 1980 to the Present, the Framework authors actually devote most of their discussion to a summary of trends in the 1970s. As a result, although students are left knowing that there was a conservative groundswell, the Framework fails to state that this tidal wave of public opinion swept Ronald Reagan into the White House.
The Framework fails to address President Reagan’s domestic leadership and policies in a meaningful manner. For example, the document completely ignores Reagan’s charismatic leadership and his role a “Great Communicator.” The Framework does acknowledge that “Conservatives enjoyed significant victories related to taxation and deregulation of many industries” (page 65). However, it fails to credit these polices to President Reagan or to even use the term “Reaganomics.” Given this superficial coverage, students may wonder how the United States enjoyed a period of sustained growth from 1982 to 1988 and why voters overwhelmingly reelected Reagan in 1984.
The Framework authors now turn their attention to the end of the Cold War. They explain this historic victory for America and for the Free World in the following sentence: “President Reagan, who initially rejected détente with increased defense spending, military action, and bellicose rhetoric, later developed a friendly relationship with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, leading to significant arms reductions by both countries” (page 66). This misleading and superficial statement ignores a complex sequence of events causal factors that included the Reagan Doctrine, the role of Solidarity, the leadership of Pope John Paul II, and the basic flaws of the Soviet political and economic system.
After dispatching the Cold War, the Framework briefly turns its attention to what it calls, “the attacks on September 11, 2001” (page 66). The Framework never attributes these attacks to Al Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden. We are then told that following the September 11 attacks, “U.S. decision-makers launched foreign policy and military efforts against terrorism and lengthy, controversial conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq” (page 66). This sweeping statement continues the Framework’s pattern of ignoring the valor and sacrifices of American servicemen and women.
The Framework now briefly considers “demographic shifts that had profound cultural and political consequences” (page 67). The Framework correctly identifies the rise of the Sunbelt and the new wave of immigrants from Latin America and Asia as major demographic trends. However, it neglects to point out that the number of older Americans is increasing. This “graying” of the population poses a threat to the long-term viability of Social Security.
We have repeatedly criticized the redesigned AP U.S. History Framework for presenting a biased version of American history. This bias can be clearly seen in how the Framework concludes Unit 9 and thus the course. Instead of ending with the historic election of the nation’s first African-American president or with a section on America’s role in creating the computer revolution and the Internet, the Framework ends with this statement: “Demographic changes intensified debates about gender roles, family structures, and racial and national identity” (page 68). The Framework then grants teachers the flexibility to discuss the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell debate” (page 68).
Larry Krieger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired AP U.S. History teacher from Pennsylvania.