D’Souza’s America and Our Schools

Published July 7, 2014

National Review Online

Dinesh D’Souza’s new film, America: Imagine the World Without Her, stands as a rebuttal to inaccurate and one-sided leftist critiques of this country. D’Souza, for example, takes on Howard Zinn’s tendentious yet widely read A People’s History of the United States, relying in part on testimony from Ron Radosh.  (D’Souza also interviews me for the film.)

No doubt, some will say that the leftist critics of America who appear in D’Souza’s film – Noam Chomsky and Michael Eric Dyson among them — are strident outliers, representing no cultural force of any significance. Would that it were true.

It turns out that D’Souza’s film could not be better timed. Although it has barely registered yet in our public debates, the teaching of American history in our high schools has just been seized in what a few sharp-eyed critics rightly call a “curricular coup.” The College Board, the private company that creates the SAT test and the various Advance Placement tests, has issued a new set of guidelines that is about to turn the teaching of American history into exactly the sort of grievance-based pedagogy that D’Souza decries in his film.

Leftist academics have finally figured out a way to circumvent state and local control over America’s schools and effectively impose progressive political indoctrination on the entire country. Once the AP U.S. History test demands blame-America-first answers, public and private schools alike will be forced to construct an American history curriculum that “teaches to the test.”

Up until the last few months, the College Board has provided high school teachers with only a brief topical outline for the AP U.S. History test. The brevity of this outline has permitted states, school districts, and teachers across the country to approach American history in their own way.  Now, however, the College Board has created a lengthy and detailed “framework” for their AP U.S. History test.  That framework effectively forces teachers to adopt an ideologically left-leaning approach to American history, heavily emphasizing our country’s failings while giving short shrift to our founding principles.

George Washington, a key figure in D’Souza’s film, barely makes an appearance in the new AP U.S. History Guidelines. Figures like Benjamin Franklin and James Madison are completely omitted. The Declaration of Independence is presented chiefly as an illustration of the colonists’ belief in their own superiority.  Slavery and the treatment of Native Americans are at center stage.  At times, the presentation of the New Deal and the Reagan era seems to come straight out of a Democratic Party press office. If you want your child to be admitted to a top quality college, you may soon feel pressure to parrot this line.

While the new AP U.S. History Standards clearly lean leftwards, they are not quite as egregiously ideological as a full-on college course taught by the likes of the leftist critics D’Souza interviews for his film. Yet the difference is surprisingly small. The College Board is pushing U.S. history as far to the left as it can get away with at the high school level.  In doing so, the Board is creating a kind of feeder system that perfectly primes students for the more openly ideological training they’ll be getting at college.

Jane Robbins and Larry Krieger, the first critics to protest this change, write about it here and here. Trevor Packer, a vice-president at the College Board, responds to Robbins and Krieger here, while they reply to Packer here. Since that initial dustup, Peter Wood, President of the National Association of Scholars, has weighed in with further background on, and criticism of, of the College Board’s ill-advised move here.

This attempt to nationalize a leftist American history curriculum by way of the College Board has been in the works for years. The Board made its move, however, shortly after selecting David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, as its new president.  I and many others have been concerned that a de facto federalizing of the K-12 curriculum through the Common Core would create an opening for those seeking to nationalize leftist indoctrination in our schools. Coleman’s role in formally authorizing and supervising the AP U.S. History changes only heightens these concerns. Coleman hasn’t fully revealed his plans for linking up the Common Core and the College Board’s testing regime. At this point, however, Coleman has lost the benefit of the doubt.

If the new AP U.S. History framework is allowed to take root unopposed, we can expect analogous changes in other AP tests. The College Board could use its AP tests to effectively federalize nearly the whole of America’s high school curriculum, with all of it “aligned” to the Common Core. This, of course, would be a back-door way around the Constitution, which by withholding power over education from the federal government reserves control of it to the states.

What can be done to stop these changes? Vocal protest at the state and local levels is needed. State legislatures may have to step in to prevent the effective seizure of their curricula by the College Board. Efforts to break the College Board’s monopoly on AP tests may also be in order. Is a market opening up for an alternative set of AP tests?

Many of the enthusiastic audience members streaming out of D’Souza’s film have said that they’re looking for something to do, a way to take action against the misrepresentations and distortions of American history that increasingly dominate our culture. Over and above electoral politics, here is something you can do. Join or create a movement to protest and combat the effort of the College Board to impose an ideologically one-sided American history curriculum on our country’s schools.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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