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NC school board hears about new take on US history

December 1, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s State Board of Education on Monday joined a building national debate over whether high school students should be taught that America is exceptional despite its faults, or whether the country’s history should be explained more objectively.

School board members heard pros and cons of changes to a high school history test for advanced students. The Advanced Placement U.S. History test designed by the College Board, a New York City nonprofit, allows students to earn college credits.

The school board’s discussion came as conservative groups around the country pressure state and local education officials to reject the revamped test that translated into lessons being taught beginning this fall.

North Carolina native and retired history teacher Larry Krieger said the test promotes a message that America is as good and bad as other nations around the world rather than promoting Americans and the country they founded as unique.

The idea of American exceptionalism is that the U.S. “is an exceptional country with exceptional ideals. That we have been, are and will be a force for good in the world. That we stand for democracy and freedom,” said Krieger, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill graduate who taught history primarily in New Jersey schools after starting out in North Carolina classrooms.

The new guidelines also include more than two dozen statements that are “highly negative and that people across America have objected to,” he said. The College Board emphasizes the new test focuses more on critical-thinking skills and placing U.S. history in context.

Krieger said he thinks the state school board should use its influence and “stand up for America and call upon the College Board to rectify this situation” by revising how it teaches AP history.

The revised guidelines also fail to cover the concepts behind the founding of the U.S., including the due process of law, individual rights and responsibilities, and Creator-endowed inalienable rights as required by a 2011 state law, Krieger said. So students should be required to take the American history course in founding principles before taking the new AP history course, he said.

Krieger and other critics misunderstand or misinterpret the teaching framework, which doesn’t outline what topics and readings are included or left out of instruction, said College Board head of AP instruction John Williamson.

“It was never designed to include all the examples that a teacher would teach or all topics that would be taught,” he said.

The 2011 North Carolina law also never mentions American exceptionalism, the Mayflower Compact or the Magna Carta, which established the English tradition of limiting the power of kings in the 13th century, said Williamson, a former school superintendent and AP English teacher in Kentucky.

The Republican National Committee in August blasted the new AP U.S. History test framework. It reflects “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects,” the RNC resolution said. “The framework excludes discussion of the U. S. military (no battles, commanders, or heroes) and omits many other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history.”

New Hanover County’s school board used much the same language weeks later in urging state officials to delay for a year the revised AP test that about 11,000 students statewide were expected to take.

South Carolina’s Board of Education last month refused to go along with opponents of the AP guidelines who wanted the test aims rewritten.

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio .

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