Opinion: Keep Ideology Out of Education

The state of Oklahoma, currently of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fame, is not doing much to help its plummeting education rating. Last month, a legislative committee passed a bill that would ban the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course because it focuses on “what is bad about America.”

The bill would also mandate that teachers instruct students in the “foundational documents,” which include the Ten Commandments, two sermons and three speeches by Ronald Reagan. As if the ideological and religious slant was not obvious enough, there is no speech by a Democratic president after Lyndon B. Johnson. It would take a novel to cover all the problems with this bill, but for now we will address some of the most glaring issues.

First, the comparisons that some legislators made to Common Core are completely laughable. One representative stated, “AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.” The AP program and Common Core are in no way comparable. The College Board is a private company that creates AP classes that are non-compulsory for students. Comparing AP to Common Core is a convenient way to fit a buzzword into rhetoric, but it has no basis in fact.

The idea that APUSH is not only an attempt to impose a national curriculum but also a leftist, revisionist version of history would also be laughable if the implications weren’t so upsetting. Acknowledging the tragedies of slavery is not leftist; acknowledging the atrocities committed to Native Americans is not leftist. It’s history. Not acknowledging it in order to paint an inaccurately positive view of American history harms the students’ future education prospects and breeds ignorance. It harms the students and society as a whole.

Photo Courtesy of Evan Graff / Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Evan Graff / Flickr

The legislature, in their ideological crusade to craft a nation of patriots with a relentlessly positive view of American history, would end up harming the students in the process—though they don’t seem to care. David Wrobel, Merrick Chair of Western History at the University of Oklahoma, made the obvious point that this would disadvantage the students’ college prospects in addition to their ability to learn. AP courses are basically a prerequisite for admission to elite universities; if you take that away, then the affected students start out with one less opportunity than the rest of the country to take the challenging courses necessary for college admission. It’s also an economic disadvantage; most schools grant college credit for APUSH; taking it away then makes college potentially more costly.

The legislative committee is well aware of the effects, but they don’t care. There’s universal opposition to this bill from colleges, teachers, and students. Once the legislative committee saw the bill as part of an ideological war against the leftists, the students became irrelevant. Oklahoma ranks 48th in the country in quality of public school education. Instead of doing everything possible to encourage the challenging curriculum and learning that the AP program fosters, they are working to strike it down because they need it to align with their ideological views, no matter how misguided they are. Given the actions of the legislature, Oklahoma’s atrocious education ranking is wholly unsurprising.

According to James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, college-level work like the AP program builds empathy, an essential part of historical thinking. A lack of empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, breeds racism not unlike the racist, horrifying Sigma Alpha Epsilon chant. Maybe if Oklahoma viewed education as a public good instead of a vehicle for ideological warfare, the all-too-common attitudes expressed by SAE could be eradicated.

Sarcasm and California enthusiast. Snowpocalypse survivor/trademarker. One time cartwheel-doer.