Battle over teaching U.S. history flares in Gwinnett

Sample questions from an A.P. United States History practice test. The real test is more than three hours and includes multiple-choice questions and two long-essay questions

Essay question:

1. Using your knowledge of United States history, answer parts a and b.

a) Briefly explain why ONE of the following periods best represents the beginning of a democracy in the United States. Provide at least ONE piece of evidence from the period to support your explanation.

• Rise of political parties in the 1790s

• Development of voluntary organizations to promote social reforms between the 1820s and the 1840s

• Emergence of the Democrats and the Whigs as political parties in the 1830s

b) Briefly explain why ONE of the other options is not as persuasive as the one you chose.

Multiple-choice question:

“I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way. I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.”

President Harry Truman, address before a joint session of Congress articulating what would become known as the Truman Doctrine, 1947

“We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace … General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

President Ronald Reagan, speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, 1987

21. The statements of both Truman and Reagan share the same goal of

(A) restraining communist military power and ideological influence

(B) creating alliances with recently decolonized nations

(C) reestablishing the principle of isolationism

(D) avoiding a military confrontation with the Soviet Union

22. Truman issued the doctrine primarily in order to

(A) support decolonization in Asia and Africa

(B) support United States allies in Latin America

(C) protect United States interests in the Middle East

(D) bolster noncommunist nations, particularly in Europe

23. Reagan’s speech best reflects which of the following developments in United States foreign policy?

(A) Caution resulting from earlier setbacks in international affairs

(B) Increased assertiveness and bellicosity

(C) The expansion of peacekeeping efforts

(D) The pursuit of free trade worldwide

Georgia’s largest school district has become a battleground in the national culture war over teaching American history.

Some residents have complained at several Gwinnett County school board meetings in recent months that the revised Advanced Placement U.S. History course for 11th-graders excludes key moments such as D-Day and the Battle of Bunker Hill and important figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. They say it does contain “anti-American” statements such as, “The decision to drop the atomic bomb (during World War II) raised questions about American values.”

In essence, they say the course leaves out much of the good and emphasizes the bad.

The complaints are the latest manifestation of a debate that began last summer when the College Board unveiled some changes to the A.P. U.S. History course framework. The A.P. course is an elective designed by the College Board, which also administers the SAT college-entrance exam.

The Republican National Committee passed a resolution in August asking the College Board to delay the framework for a year, branding it “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” A Colorado school board’s reaction against the course prompted widespread protest and a student walkout; the Texas board of education went on record against allowing the new curriculum framework; and legislators and activists in South Carolina and Tennessee are discussing similar moves.

The critics want Gwinnett to return to the old framework and exam this year. They plan to reiterate their concerns at Gwinnett’s school board meeting on Thursday.

“Don’t mess with our history and don’t mess with our kids’ views of America, its greatness and its heroes,” one Gwinnett resident, Judy Craft, said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Gwinnett officials say they don’t plan any changes to the coursework.

They acknowledge the course doesn’t identify some historical figures, but say those people are mentioned in class. One classroom where the course is taught has laminated information about King, a cardboard cutout of former President Ronald Reagan and copies of documents like the U.S. Constitution. The A.P. course is designed not to simply test a student’s memory, but to measure critical thinking skills, Gwinnett officials say.

“We begin teaching that in the first grade,” Debbie Daniell, Gwinnett’s social studies director, said of some of the material critics say isn’t included in the A.P. course. “It is absolutely taught in our U.S. history courses, with rigor and depth of knowledge.”

One former Gwinnett teacher has taken the concerns a step further. Marc Urbach, who taught in Gwinnett from 2001 to 2012, says Gwinnett omits many Judeo-Christian elements from its history lessons and does not include important historical moments, such as George Washington’s farewell address from political life in 1796.

To date, there’s been little public resistance to the course in other metro school districts, but many Georgia conservatives worry that social studies and history courses are being taught with a liberal bias or espouse a negative view of America.

The state's new school superintendent, Richard Woods, recently said he wants to issue Georgia's 123,000 fifth-graders pocket copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.

“Students need to know about our Founding Fathers,” Woods said.

In Gwinnett, critics have made presentations using lengthy analyses by former history teachers and others denouncing the revised framework and recent editions of the textbook, “Out of Many.” Gwinnett does not use the latest version of the textbook, but critics say the course is still based on a framework they find objectionable.

College Board officials attempted to appease the critics last fall by offering teachers an annual review of the course framework this summer. Critics don’t want Gwinnett to participate in the review.

Craft and her husband, Ken, said they became troubled by A.P. materials and other English/Language Arts textbooks Gwinnett may use when the district put them on display last fall. The Crafts have two grandchildren in the Gwinnett district and have been vocal opponents of implementing the Common Core education standards in Georgia.

The Crafts and others said the school district or the state should have some oversight of the A.P. framework.

Gwinnett school board chairman Daniel Seckinger said he agrees with much of what the critics say. Seckinger, like other Gwinnett officials, noted the course is an elective and the district does not include materials that are not part of Gwinnett’s Academic Knowledge and Skills standards. The board chairman said he would be open to including a statement preceding the A.P. history course that says there are elements in the course materials some may find objectionable and aren’t pro-American.

Meanwhile, Urbach, the former Gwinnett teacher, stuck to his claims about what’s not taught in the district.

“Over 200 years worth of European history is not taught,” he said. “I taught the course for six years and we never made it to the 1970s. Only one, maybe two days teaching on the Holocaust.”

Jonathan Patterson, Gwinnett’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support, said some subjects may not get as much classroom time as he’d like, either.

“Personally, I’d like to see more about the Civil War,” he said.