by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When confronted with criticism of the new AP standards, the College Board’s response has been in effect to tell critics to chill out, that the standards are only a model, and that final decisions about curriculum decisions are in the hands of local school boards. In practice, that is not entirely accurate.
In Jefferson County, Colo., whose Columbine High School occupies a dark place in the American memory, a series of protests have broken out over the local school board’s decision to do exactly what the College Board says it should be doing: reviewing the AP standards and working out its own curriculum. One board member expressed concern that the AP approach unfairly downplayed the “positive aspects” of American history — we’d count liberty, prosperity, democracy, and saving the world from fascism a few times among those — and the board produced an entirely unobjectionable document advising that the curriculum should “present the most current factual information accurately and objectively,” that “theories should be distinguished from fact,” that “content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions,” etc. It also said that the materials should promote patriotism and citizenship, the benefits of the free-enterprise system, and respect for individual rights. Ironically, students who objected to being instructed in the value of individual rights availed themselves of their individual rights and walked out in protest.
Other school districts have begun the process of reviewing the standards, as is proper — as is, in fact, their job. And who is standing in their way? The College Board, in fact, which has issued a statement in favor of the Colorado protests and accused the school board of attempting to “censor” it, as though a school board’s writing its own curriculum were in any meaningful sense “censorship.” When it suits the College Board, the standards are the locals’ call; when it doesn’t suit the College Board, the locals are “censors.”