Leave history alone

Oklahoma APUSH ban infringes on freedom of opinion

Anna Malesis, Managing Editor

We often see history books as the end-all, be-all of our nation’s past; we take what we learn from them as facts—but should we? In the process of assembling the text, someone had to collect and process all of that information, inevitably tainting those facts with their own personal biases.

How do we deal with those biases? And who should get to decide what students learn about history?

Since Oklahoma legislators proposed a ban on the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, this problem has been brought to the forefront of many Americans’ minds. Proponents of the ban found the APUSH to be too critical of America’s past and disliked that there was no mention of American exceptionalism.

These questions seem relatively innocent: someone has to decide what to tell people, right? After all, not everything can fit in a textbook. To me, though, it is a little frightening that someone is picking and choosing what we learn about our country, a little too reminiscent of the rewritten history books in George Orwell’s “1984.”

In a perfect world, there would be no disparity between raw American history and what people are told or kids are taught in school: no editing, no revising, no omissions, no downplaying, no hyperbole, no interpretation, no bias, and no trace of any author, editor, legislator, or other person involved in presenting the information.

Every time a historical event or perspective is omitted, emphasized or otherwise altered, it changes a part of the story. People and events can be forgotten or misunderstood, and through this historical revision, students’ perspectives about our and other countries can be easily swayed.

Of course, it is impossible for history to be passed from one person to another without it being lensed by their own personal views, but we should strive to convey the most objective view of history possible. People have a right to know the facts, and it is up to them to develop their own opinions and views about it—not the ones supported by the government.

Sure, curricula that portray America in a positive light may stimulate patriotism, but it is far more important to be informed. Patriotism may make people feel good about their country and support its actions, but excessive nationalism has also lead to some of the world’s bloodiest and most pointless wars.

On the other hand, if people are given unbiased information, they can take a more temperate, internationally-conscious view, recognizing what they like and dislike in their own government, as well as in others, by their own personal standards. Then, they can use these standards to make positive changes in their country, or interact with other countries or groups without animosity.

So long as the APUSH curriculum is objective enough to let students come to their own conclusions, let it be: it’s never going to please everyone, and we shouldn’t expect it to. The spectrum of political opinions that defines America is what keeps our country balanced, and if history curricula remain relatively unbiased, we can maintain this variety of opinion.

It is in our best interests to maintain this balance, so the Oklahoma legislators have no place trying to impose their political opinions on U.S. history students. The College Board is an independent group, and taking APUSH is by no means necessary.

If students disagree with the perspective presented, then it should be their choice not to take the class, but by banning the curriculum, the legislators are actively attempting to sway students’ opinions—and that crosses a line.

We, as Americans, have a right to freedom of opinion.

When it comes down to it, sure, Americans may love to love America, but banning anything too pessimistic isn’t the solution. Instead of ignoring the things we don’t like, we should inform ourselves about them so that we can make America a country we can honestly be proud to love.