AP U.S. History rejected by Okla. House Panel


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Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

Justinian I depicted on a mosaic in the church of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

On Monday, the Common Education Committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill to replace the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum framework with a course of study that, from the standpoint of a professor of Western Civ., has lots to recommend it. As “the base level of academic content for all United States History courses,” the bill mandates the teaching of such cool “foundational and historical documents” as the Justinian Code (Roman imperial law) and Magna Carta as well as “a complete overview of the “Two Treatises of Government written by John Locke.”

Personally, I think it would be a good idea if the solons of the Oklahoma House of Representatives required themselves to be tested annually on the Justinian Code and Magna Carta and Locke’s two treatises. But truth to tell, they seem more interested in getting the youth of their state to embrace “the representative form of limited government, the free-market economic system and American exceptionalism.” Especially the last of these. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Fisher (R-Yukon), singled out the College Board’s failure to mention that as a particular concern.

In the last presidential campaign, Republican presidential candidates grew so enamored of American Exceptionalism that an argument could be made that it became the GOP’s political religion. I think Fisher’s being a little unfair, however, in accusing the College Board of overlooking it. To account for Key Concept 3.2 (“new experiments with democratic ideas and republican forms of government”), the framework declares: “Protestant evangelical religious fervor strengthened many British colonists’ understandings of themselves as a chosen people blessed with liberty.” I’d say that goes some way toward explaining American Exceptionalism.

Then, for post-1980 America, there’s Key Concept 9.1: “A new conservatism grew to prominence in U.S. culture and politics, defending traditional social values and rejecting liberal views about the role of government.” After which comes the following explanation: “The rapid and substantial growth of evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches and organizations, as well as increased political participation by some of those groups, encouraged significant opposition to liberal social and political trends.” The College Board suggests that students be enlightened on this score by studying the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family.

The Common Education Committee wants them to study the Justinian Code and Magna Carta instead. It thinks the College Board’s view of American history is too negative.