Opinion: Cutting AP U.S. History is a sign of U.S. exceptionalism

Opinion: Cutting AP U.S. History is a sign of U.S. exceptionalism

People can learn more from their mistakes than from their successes. The best history instruction exposes students to learn lessons from the darkest moments of the past.

Studying such moments helps students develop critical thinking skills and deal with contemporary challenges. Unfortunately, a growing number of politicians seek to scrub out the stains of American history.

The Oklahoma state legislature recently banned Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) throughout Oklahoma.

Representative Dan Fisher, who wrote the bill, argued that APUSH was too negative and not patriotic enough. State representatives from six other states would now like to pass similar bans.

Banning APUSH represents a misguided effort to gloss over unfavorable parts of American history. State representatives should serve students, not a specific ideology, and stop the anti-APUSH movement.

The representatives who passed the APUSH ban defend the idea of American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism claims that the U.S. has a unique history of defending democracy, equality and liberty.

In Fisher’s opinion, history education today focuses instead on what is bad about America.

“[The new framework] trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of constitutional government in favor of robust analyses of gender and racial oppression and class ethnicity and the lives of marginalized people, where the emphasis on instruction is of America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters,” said Fisher.

Fisher believes that banning APUSH will restore the study of American exceptionalism in schools.

Students should study a variety of interpretations of American history, including American exceptionalism.

American history is full of moments of both triumph and failure and, as such, people hold diverse views about that history.

It makes sense for students to study the events, issues and people that spark such diverse views. The problem with the APUSH ban is that it only allows students to view through the lens of one ideology.

If students only studied history through the lens of American exceptionalism, they would miss out on times in which the U.S. failed to live up to its ideals.

For instance, take the study of World War II. History teachers could easily simplify American involvement in World War II to a heroic victory over the oppressive Nazi Germany.

Such a reading would leave out the irony of African Americans fighting for equality yet lacking rights at home.

This reading would never mention complicated moments such as the internment of Japanese Americans or the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Throw in a mention of Rosie the Riveter, sure, but do not cover the pressure women felt to relinquish their jobs when men returned home.

Every day, students encounter news stories with roots in historical problems. Income inequality continues to rise, and women still lack universal equal pay to men.

The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner sparked protests and ongoing racial conflict. Not every student will agree on how to address such challenges and that is okay. W

hat is not okay is acting like Fisher and pretending such challenges do not exist.

Oklahoma’s state representatives seem to believe that patriotism involves unconditional love of one’s country. A more honest, compelling definition of patriotism would admit that one’s country is imperfect.

This definition would instead call for learning from past mistakes and improvement, not perfection. The only way to build a better, brighter future is to allow students to learn, unfettered.