My favorite course (note not class nor teacher) I ever took in high school was APUSH. AP United States History was the only class I ever felt like my passion for history or understanding the world was at least slightly cultivated. Silicon Valley schools in general are not exactly the most conducive to uplifting the social sciences nor humanities with everyone wanting to pursue CS or be pre-med. I had an incredible teacher who was enthusiastic about the curriculum and we went through what I had thought to be a fairly comprehensive look at all of American history. Walking out of that class, I felt like I knew, at the very least, a comprehensive understanding of this country for all of its past mistakes (yes that’s what I thought they were, but never being critical of its legitimacy).
One of the areas this summer where I pushed myself to interrogate is to question why I believed in the ideas I did. And much of this reflection came with asking myself what were the flaws in history education that led to me having revisionist histories as my knowledge base. There was one clear place where it became painfully obvious where the most corrosive education standards that passively addressed American imperialism, perpetuated anti-Black racist stereotypes, and suppressed any history of radicalism: APUSH.
Take this one learning objective from the College Board from period one in the curriculum for APUSH:
“Mutual misunderstandings between Europeans and Native Americans often defined the early years of interaction and trade as each group sought to make sense of the other.”
By mutual misunderstandings, do we mean the genocide of native people by guns or with a disease, or Europeans wanting to unsustainably extract resources from the land? Because nearly every single other peer I have did not discuss this in their classes. APUSH is designed to briefly gloss over the narratives that predicated the founding of the state. What comes from such a course plan that attempts to cover this country’s history in about eight months becomes even more obvious in full context. The course is for an exam that is run by a non-profit that wants to make as much money for its executives as possible is, not interested in educating people about the nation, but to increase their bottom line. Even if APUSH is framed as “designed to be the equivalent of a two-semester introductory college or university U.S. history course,” perhaps a more accurate description would be “designed to propagate American exceptionalism/imperialism and leaving students with an inaccurate understanding of this state’s history.”
The erasure of Black radicalism, the erasure of humanity of people abroad whether in Vietnam, Cuba, Libya, and others. Watching documentaries that would both sides imperialist wars and coups the US led all sort of amassed in a dangerous, violent result: thousands, if not millions, of young people across the globe that have taken this course and believe America is exceptional when it is not. They will never be able to grapple with the heinous acts that have defined this nation’s history. No one would discuss the end of MLK’s life or the ramifications of reconstruction devolving into white supremacist vigilante terrorism. The list goes on and on, but the effects of the purposeful misdirection of the history of this nation lead to all of us, myself included, have ludicrous expectations of what can be achieved in the current form of this state.
In APUSH, we never afforded the type of critical dissection and validation of other movements across the globe like we did for the US. It was always “America has done some bad things, but it was all in hopes of creating a great nation,” without ever asking whether those aims were even valid, whether this all genuinely was worth it at all. Without any opportunity to express legitimate criticisms about the state, we are left with a one-sided propagandist perspective of our position in the world. And that, more than forcing students to be in STEM or forcing them to write unnecessarily formatted essays, is something that does implicate lives. Lives will continue to be in jeopardy, and for that reason, perhaps we should just go away with this class as a step towards critically engaging with America as an institution.
Education and the world would be better without APUSH.
Being Noah Tesfaye #149: We’d Be Better Without APUSH
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