AP history proposal sparks controversy

February 19, 2015 Latest Print Print
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One OCCC history professor believes while legislators are competent and can do their jobs, he also believes they should leave teaching in the classroom and allow him to do his job as well.

Some history and government professors on campus disagree with a proposed law that would withdraw funding for Advanced Placement courses in U.S. history taught in Oklahoma public high schools.

History professor Ray McCullar is one. McCullar said there are many good things to celebrate in American history, but that doesn’t mean the country has done everything perfectly.

“I think most people who major in history do so because they find a story compelling, and I feel insulted,” McCullar said.

“I believe these legislators are well-meaning, but they’re mistaken.”

Oklahoma House of Representatives Education Committee members voted to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History courses from high schools on Tuesday, February 17.

The vote, 11-4, which carried the argument that the course teaches “what is bad about America,” would prohibit the current state-funded AP history courses taught in high school, according to media reports.

Political Science Professor Sharon Vaughan said Advanced Placement classes benefit students.

“Some of the best students I’ve had are the students who have completed AP History and the AP Government courses in high school,” she said.

She said she knows this because she teaches introduction to American Federal Government, a freshman course required of all degree-seekers.

Vaughan said it’s important for students to learn to look at both sides of things like American History to become critical thinkers.

“It’s not always positive – you have to look at the good with the bad,” she said.

McCullar said American history makes him think of family.

“Any family that thinks it’s a perfect family and insists on being family are probably going to become dysfunctional,” he said. “We’re not perfect, and the history of the United States is not a perfect record.”

History Professor Leslie Jones said history serves as a reminder to Americans that there is a lot to fix.

“Ultimately, history is not a romance novel,” she said.

“It has some ugliness and it has some amazing things. There’s a reason that we’re one of the most powerful countries in the world and that so many immigrants want to come here.”

Jones said the better educated people are, the better prepared they are. She used George Santayana’s quote ‘those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it,’ as an example.

“If we don’t know about the Tulsa race riots, if we don’t know about slavery, if we don’t know about the injustices of Native Americans, who is to say the next generation will not repeat some of those same mistakes that led to those events,” she said.

Vaughan said her goal as an educator is to produce critical thinkers. She believes taking away the AP History course would deny students the opportunity to become critical thinkers in the field.

Being a critical thinker means one can analyze and evaluate arguments based on reason and on evidence, she said.

“We want a balanced, educational experience so that we can look at all … things,” she said.

“I just hope that this is a hopeful process.

“I know the students in my class here at OCCC are excellent students who have completed [the AP History course], and they seem to be very well-educated and critical thinkers,” she said.

Vaughan said she does not believe legislators should be in the business of selecting the books that are taught, because academic freedom is something educators all cherish.

“I don’t think it only applies to college professors,” she said. “I think it should  apply to high school teachers, because they know their students.

“They’re in the trenches and they’re the experts in the field.”

McCullar believes those who think students are being misguided in these history courses should take a history course themselves.

“I think we’ve become so polarized in our thinking that it worries me, frankly,” he said.

Film and Video Production major Guthrie Crull said he took many AP courses at Edmond Santa Fe  High school, including AP American history.

“They don’t sugarcoat and tell you the ‘hooray America’ version of the story,” he said.

“I don’t know how you could be a true patriot unless you know the bad [stuff] we’ve done too.”

Crull said AP history courses are good for students who are intelligent and want to take the course seriously.

“I think it’s good for kids to be able to do that,” he said.

“There’s a big gap in the level of how much the kids in the classes care about what’s going on. I found AP classes have a lot more interaction between the peers and the teachers.”

Angela Shemwell, Computer Animation Major, didn’t take AP classes but said her brother did and it would be a mistake to change the curriculum.

“Putting someone of higher intelligence [who] just breezes through the regular classes is not going to be a challenge for them and they’re likely to just say, ‘the heck with it,’ and not do it at all,” she said.

“I think those [who] can do well and exceed in regular classes should have the option of the AP classes. That’s what [they are] designed for … .”

HB1380 was authored by state Rep. Dan Fisher, (R-El Reno). Attempts to reach Fisher by phone were unsuccessful as of press time Feb. 19.

To read HB 1380, visit https://legiscan.com/OK/text/HB1380.

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