| Washington, wars and whitewashing: Why the College Board must uproot its AP US History curriculum
In May 2019, I walked into the test center of Eastern Michigan University with three freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils, my school ID and a pit in the bottom of my stomach. I had spent the past nine months in my AP United States History class preparing for this exam, and yet, I couldn’t help but feel it was all wrong.
The College Board, which was founded in 1899, has made a monopoly out of higher education in the United States. From their Advanced Placement program to the SAT to their academic awards, the College Board has ensured that the vast majority of American high schoolers are unable to graduate and go to college without interacting with, and paying for, one of their services.
Their APUSH curriculum has been a point of contention for years. According to the National Association of Scholars, it underwent drastic changes in 2015 due to a push from right-wing organizations, notably Scholars Concerned About Advanced Placement History, who claimed the pre-2015 content was “unpatriotic” and “un-American.” As a result, the current curriculum has ignored some of the darkest chapters of American history that are crucial to analyzing and reckoning with the country’s past, patriotic or not. The “history” I learned from it was largely non-comprehensive and whitewashed.
My conversations with young adults around the country have revealed I’m not the only student who has noticed this. Alexa Mitchell, a senior at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia, feels that the stories of her African American ancestors have not been accurately told by College Board. Although enslaved people built our country from the ground, it was white men who were praised. Black people have persisted and flourished in their own cultures and endeavors in America, and yet, they are only included in APUSH in discussions related to white people as maintained by College Board’s online course guide. From the Civil Rights Movement to the revolts of enslaved humans, the curriculum reflects a violent narrative that minorities are only worth talking about when European oppression is present. “I don’t think APUSH can claim to be an American history class if they aren’t teaching the history of all Americans,” Mitchell remarks.
APUSH also tends to omit important specifics of historically-oppressed people. For example, as seen on the online APUSH course guide, the current curriculum exclusively uses the overarching term of “American Indian” instead of naming particular Native American tribes, despite referring to European nations with less significance to U.S. history by name. We are not one entity, but instead, we all have our own languages, traditions and cultures that deserve to be recognized by history. Indigenous peoples must be recognized as separate tribal nations and not as a monolith.\
Contrary to downplaying the true brutality many Americans faced throughout history to make it palatable, College Board must tell their students the truth. As an organization with great power and influence over U.S. education, they have a responsibility to be honest in their curriculum. Although the truth may not be pretty, it is absolutely essential to know in the wake of continued contemporary resistance and strength from marginalized communities such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Our classrooms and next generation must be equipped with the tools to have thoughtful academic and social conversations to work towards positive change for all. We cannot become better community members, friends and citizens if we do not understand and learn from the tragedies of the past.
To fix the curriculum, College Board needs to look towards the people who the class is supposed to be about-all Americans, not just white Americans-by passing the pen to historically-oppressed people to write about their own ancestors and history. In order to be truly representative, Black and Indigenous voices must be given the opportunity to speak for their people instead of being forced to allow others to tell their stories according to Nyché Andrew, an Alaska Native student from Service High School. She says, “College Board must be intentional in including these left out voices in discussions and fundamental changes of the curriculum.” By incorporating diverse viewpoints into the conversation, College Board can take a step toward making their programs not only accessible to all, but representative of all.
A non-inclusive education isn’t an education at all — it’s brainwashing.