Daniel Henninger penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, announcing: “Hey Conservatives, You Won.” What was the big win? Restoring patriotic themes and accurate accounts to the AP United States History exam, a college preparatory test which allows high schools to earn college credit.
In this summer of agitated discontent for American conservatives, we can report a victory for them, assuming that is still permitted.
Last year, the College Board, the nonprofit corporation that controls all the high-school Advanced Placement courses and exams, published new guidelines for the AP U.S. history test. They read like a left-wing dream. Obsession with identity, gender, class, crimes against the American Indian and the sins of capitalism suffused the proposed guidelines for teachers of AP American history.
“Obsession” is the correct word, as identity politics has taken over the proper reading and rendering of United States History. Boys and girls are going to public schools learning everything that is wrong with America instead of following the growing ascent and embrace of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness espoused by the Framers and embraced by all who came to this country’s shores.
As of a few weeks ago, that tilt in the guidelines has vanished. The College Board’s rewritten 2015 teaching guidelines are almost a model of political fair-mindedness. This isn’t just an about-face. It is an important political event.
The Left has targeted major institutions like education, media, and medicine for decades to wage their fight. To their detriment, conservatives, Republicans, and liberty advocates focused merely on winning elections, often the federal ones, at the expense not only of state and local races, but most importantly the major outlets of popular culture: media, education, and entertainment. Even Investors Business Daily editor and cartoonist Michael Ramirez explained the key importance of these venues:
“Conservatives have to gain a foothold in three main pillars of society: education, popular culture and the media.”
Media sites like Hot Air, TruthRevolt, and Breitbart are taking back the media. Now conservative activists are taking back education, and the restoration of America’s foundation principles to the AP exam represents this significant victory:
The earlier guidelines characterized the discovery of America as mostly the story of Europeans bringing pestilence, destructive plants and cultural obliteration to American Indians. The new guidelines put it this way: “Mutual misunderstandings between Europeans and Native Americans often defined the early years of interaction and trade as each group sought to make sense of the other. Over time, Europeans and Native Americans adopted some useful aspects of each other’s culture.”
Cultures and trade rely on mutual exchange and influence, for better and for worse. History must record both sides.
The previous, neo-Marxist guidelines said, “Students should be able to explain how various identities, cultures, and values have been preserved or changed in different contexts of U.S. history, with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identities.” That has been removed. The revised guidelines have plenty about “identity” but nothing worth mounting a Super PAC to battle.
How about a restoration of truth that the “American” identity is something distinct and distinguished, something which many people all over the world want? Why else would so many immigrants seek asylum and status in this country?
Also new: “The effort for American independence was energized by colonial leaders such as Benjamin Franklin, as well as by popular movements that included the political activism of laborers, artisans, and women.” The earlier version never suggested the existence of Franklin—or Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison or anyone resembling a Founding Father. Now they’re back. Even the Federalist Papers were fished out of the memory hole.
The reference to “memory hole” is particularly telling, an allusion to political contrarian George Orwell’s seminal if not prophetic dystopian novel 1984. In that work, proletariat upstart Winston Smith engages in systematically destroying history, rewriting news reports while throwing the true accounts into a “memory hole” for utter destruction. Liberal-progressives have engaged in systemic destruction of full accounts of history in order to advance their own coercive, repressive agenda.
Most incredible of all, the private enterprise system is reimagined as a force for good: “As the price of many goods decreased, workers’ real wages increased, providing new access to a variety of goods and services.”
Understanding history requires a respect for economic realities, including the benefits of free market capitalism, which has rebounded and is in recovery (pun intended). This conservative victory has the added shaudenfreude of miffing the Left:
What really happened was the resurrection of an American idea the left wants to extinguish—federalism. Some states began to push back. Legislative opposition to the guidelines formed in Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Nebraska, Tennessee, Colorado and Texas.
Not just federalism, a central and essential tenet of liberty and diffusion of power both despised by the Left, but also freedom of speech, dissent, and petition pushed back against the leading failure of the Left:
The original AP U.S. history guidelines were a case study in the left’s irrepressible impulse, here or elsewhere, to always go too far. The left always said it just wanted “to be heard.” They were, but it was never enough. The goal was to make the American center-right simply shut up.
Guess what? In a country of 319 million “diverse” people, that is really a hard political goal to lock down, no matter how many institutions are captured.
Is the country polarized? How could it not be? Is there a solution? Take a look at how the AP U.S. history mess was handled. Someone rewrote those guidelines into a reasonable political accommodation. It is not impossible.
By attempting to stifle religious liberty to reducing the individual, destroying the family, and distorting education into indoctrination, the Left went too far in trying to fundamentally transform the AP US History standards. Conservatives won this fight, and should look forward to more victories in the near future.