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A Famous Victory

By: David Randall
December 5, 2017

ust this year, Los Angeles and Austin joined the list of cities and states that have swapped Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The activists have moral certainty behind them—they, and the thugs who pour red paint on Columbus statues, know that he was evil. They want to erase Christopher Columbus from America’s history and heart.

The College Board has already erased him from history textbooks.

Some activists wear black masks while others hide behind doctorates in history and education: it’s the latter who do more damage. At the College Board, the progressives who hate America have quietly shifted key bureaucratic levers to ensure that American students only learn the anti-American catechism—by rewriting the standards for the Advanced Placement history examinations.

The tests are the hinge for Americans’ history education. Modern high schools frame their history classes’ sequences to culminate in AP classes—and 600,000 students a year take AP U.S. and European history. Textbook companies tailor their high school and college history textbooks to meet the AP standards. Most Americans don’t take history beyond the AP level—and those who do take what they’ve learned as a rough approximation of what happened. Change the AP standards, and you change the past—with an eye toward changing the present and the future.

The College Board’s 2015 Advanced Placement European History Course and Exam Description (APEH) removed both Columbus and Winston Churchill from its standards. It has nearly excised whole categories of European history—the history of liberty, religious history, and any intellectual history outside secular modernization’s narrow narrative. It left only the faintest hint of Soviet rule’s brutal destructiveness. The APEH has warped European history: American students leave thinking that its only lesson is that statues of Columbus must go. At the very least, students leave indifferent to Columbus’s legacy’s fate, since they never learned why he mattered. And they learn that they must complacently accept that the arc of history bends toward a welfare state, well-governed by well-groomed elites, impeccably progressive in their politics.

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has been fighting to keep the College Board from sneaking in this progressive rewrite. In 2014 and 2015, NAS raised a hullaballoo to get the AP U.S. history standards restored to something better than a sour screed against America—and the College Board made some grudging changes for the better. Last year NAS followed up with a report, The Disappearing Continent (2016), which argued that the College Board’s 2015 Advanced Placement European History Course and Exam Description (APEH) was making the exact same distortions it had imposed on American history.

This year, the good news is that the College Board read The Disappearing Continent closely. Its updated AP European History Course and Exam Description for 2017 now incorporates a great deal of NAS’s critique of its old standards. The NAS details the changes in “Churchill In, Columbus Still Out: A Half-Loaf from the College Board.” The bad news is that the College Board made as few changes as possible. What they did is a work of art—superficial changes, that still ensure students will learn the progressive essentials.

NAS criticized the College Board’s homogenizing, secular modernization narrative, and the College Board has now added a sixth theme, on National and European Identity. NAS criticized the absence of Max Weber’s thesis that Protestant faith nurtured economic modernity—and the College Board added a new Max Weber sub-concept. NAS criticized the College Board’s soft-focus treatment of the Soviet Union, and the College Board now describes the USSR as “authoritarian” and the Ukrainian famine of the 1930s as “devastating.” NAS criticized the College Board for its hostile treatment of free markets, and the College Board removed a lot of tendentious language slanting historical analysis in favor of government intervention. NAS criticized the College Board for minimizing British history, and APEH now mentions Methodism to illustrate the 18th century privatization of religion, Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden” to illustrate imperialist ideology, and Winston Churchill to illustrate strong individual leadership during World War II.

A small change here, a small change there, and you’re getting a lot closer to Europe’s actual history.

But the College Board didn’t include the necessary structural changes—it patched up warts, but left history’s bones misplaced.

The College Board still can’t stomach liberty or freedom: the words themselves are still almost absent from APEH, and you’ll never learn from the College Board that European civilization’s struggle for liberty is a central historical thread. Nor will you learn about economic liberty’s principles and institutions, or the role free markets played to lift Europeans from poverty. You won’t learn about the history of Europe’s development of modern intellectual inquiry’s architecture—from astronomy to geology in the natural sciences, and from art history to sociology in the humanities and social sciences. You still won’t learn about the Soviet regime’s starvation-genocide of the Ukrainians, or its lesser genocides and ethnic cleansings—of Balts and Tatars, of Poles and Germans. You won’t learn that contingency and individual endeavor can matter as much as social and economic inevitabilities. You’ll learn about the role of portolans in the Age of Discovery, but you won’t learn the names of Christopher Columbus or Vasco da Gama.

You won’t learn that European history is exceptional, important, or interesting in itself. You won’t learn that Americans should study Europe’s past because it is our history.

Those lessons remain as taboo to the progressives at the College Board as the lesson of liberty.

It’s fortunate that the College Board took NAS’s criticisms seriously and made extensive improvements to its AP European history standards. At the same time, these improvements were superficial; the College Board’s commitment to progressive dogma prevented it from making the structural changes needed to restore a truly unbiased European history assessment. As the revisions to the U.S. history standards made clear, and is now made clear again with the revisions to the European history standards, the College Board can’t correct itself properly.

Or perhaps we should say: as long as the College Board has a monopoly on educational assessment, it won’t correct itself properly.

What America needs is a new, rival assessment organization, one which will provide advanced placement examinations that meet minimum professional levels of ideologically unbiased history. One which isn’t the creature of progressive activists.

Or ever more statues will fall, as the bureaucratic fellow-travelers of the progressive mob erase from our hearts the memory of our cherished dead.