History is all about perspective — and some Oklahoma Republicans aren't above changing school curriculum to ensure that it accords with theirs.
Earlier this week, the Oklahoma House education committee voted 11-4 along party lines to approve a bill that would eliminate funding for the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) US history course in the state's high schools "until certain conditions are met."
Baptist minister and Republican State Rep. Dan Fisher has remarked that the course gives short shrift to "American exceptionalism" and instead focuses on "what is bad about America." He is heavily involved in the Black Robe Regiment, a group that works to resist what it perceives as a "growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective."
Fisher introduced HB1380 to require the teaching of several "foundational and historical documents." Though many of these are already standard in history courses, such as the Bill of Rights and the Gettysburg Address, the list also includes readings of the Ten Commandments, several religious sermons, speeches by Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush's 9/11 address to the nation.
The nonprofit College Board formulates the AP US history course in consultation with historians and teachers, as well as a non-compulsory test to be taken at its completion. A high score can award college credit to a student or fulfill an academic requirement. Critics of the course argue that it highlights unsavory aspects of America's past by focusing on topics like slavery and the treatment of Native Americans. Fisher's bill would place the curriculum and exams under the sole control of the state.
"We don't want our tax dollars going to a test that undermines our history," Fisher declared during the committee's debate on the bill on Monday.
During the session, Republican State Rep. Sally Kern, who co-sponsored the bill, compared AP courses to Common Core, and argued they could violate an Oklahoma law approved last year that repealed the national academic standards within the state. Kern said she had requested the state Attorney General's office to look into the matter.
But a blistering outcry from teachers, students, and the general public over this attempt to remodel state education — including the creation of a petition on Change.org titled "Don't Ban AP Courses" — has forced lawmakers to backtrack on the wording of the bill, which Fisher said would be changed before it goes before the full House.
"We're trying to fix the bill," Fisher told The Oklahoman on Wednesday. "It was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous, and we didn't realize that, so it's been misinterpreted. We're going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we're trying to accomplish, and it's not to hurt AP. We're very supportive of the AP program."
Fisher did not elaborate on the changes that would be made, and did not respond to VICE News' requests for comment on Thursday.
"This debate, and the resolution itself, has been marred by misinformation," Trevor Packer, the College Board's senior vice president of AP and instruction, said in a statement. "The redesigned AP US History course framework includes many inspiring examples of American exceptionalism," he added, referring to the version of the course that the College Board implemented in 2012. "Because this is a college-level course, students must also examine how Americans have addressed challenging situations like slavery. Neither the AP program, nor the thousands of American colleges and universities that award credit for AP US History exams, will allow the censorship of such topics."
Lawmakers in Oklahoma aren't the first to have taken exception to the AP US history test. The Republican National Committee blasted the course last year, claiming that it "deliberately distorts and/or edits out important historical events."
It has also been targeted by Republicans in Georgia, Texas, and North and South Carolina. who accuse the program of having a "leftist" agenda and presenting a revisionist view of American history. A conservative Colorado school board's effort last year to review the AP curriculum to ensure that it promotes "positive aspects of the United States" also incensed students and teachers.