CU Boulder professor helped create framework for controversial AP US History Course

Fred Anderson: Goal was make it more like college

BOULDER, Colo. - A professor at the University of Colorado Boulder who sat on the commission that revised the controversial Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course, says the goal was to make it more like a college course.

Professor Fred Anderson said he had no idea the changes would spark such a controversy and outcry from conservatives. 

"We were really just trying to do a simple thing, and the vehemence and the anger of the critics did, in fact, take me by surprise," said Anderson, about the new framework introduced this year. "You see, AP is supposed to be the equivalent of a college course."

Anderson said the goal of the revisions was to encourage contextualizing and analytical thinking over memorizing facts and dates -- more like a college class.

The new framework hones in on a half-dozen themes, rather than a dozen, including power and politics and ideas, beliefs and cultures.

"The themes are a set of strands that weave together a common narrative to which all these different facts can be attached," said Anderson. 

Conservatives say the curriculum was written and reviewed by committees dominated by individuals hostile to traditional American history and fails to gives serious attention to American exceptionalism.

The Republican National Committee last month came out against the new APUSH framework, saying it "reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects."

When asked if the course is "revisionist history," Anderson said, "That's just a pejorative term -- it's not substantive, because history is just constantly, always being revised. The idea behind this framework was simply to be as inclusive as possible, and that means that things that make some people uncomfortable about American history should also be included."

The RNC said in the framework, there is "little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation's history and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course ... the framework excludes discussion of the U.S. military, (no battles, commanders, or heroes), and omits many other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation's history (for example Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen and the Holocaust)."

In a resolution adopted by the RNC in August, the RNC requested that the College Board delay the implementation of the new APUSH curriculum for at least a year and that Congress investigate the matter further and withhold any federal funding to the College Board until the APUSH course has been rewritten.

Anderson took issue with the criticism that major figures in U.S. History are left out of the new framework, saying teachers have more discretion about the way they approach a topic.

"[Critics] have said there is no mention here in the subheads of James Madison," said Anderson.  "Well, the assumption is not that you're going to ignore James Madison or any of the important leaders, but rather that we can trust teachers to know that they were there. We list examples of issues that may not have been taught before in that light or in that connection. For example, Abigail Adams is mentioned here, but John Adams is not. Well, the assumption is not that Abigail Adams is the only person who is going to be mentioned. She was writing letters to her husband, John Adams, who was President of the United States."

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