As the kerfuffle surrounding Oklahoma's sudden desire to de-thinkerize APUSH started making headlines this past week, NPR made a visit to the classroom of Christine Custred of Edmond, OK.
I’m going to try to cover the House version of the ‘Smother APUSH With Documents’ bill without the oppressive word count of my post on the Senate version.
I am not optimistic.
I confess to some uncertainty regarding how things ‘work’ in the Oklahoma legislature, but if I’m reading the shorthand correctly, both of the bills regarding APUSH I’ve recently discussed – one in the House, one in the Senate – were officially presented tomorrow, February 2nd, 2015.
So, time travel?
Unlike the easy accessibility of Sally Kern’s “Use Shock Therapy on Gay Teens” bill or our state guidelines for which angry white men we’ll send to the new Constitutional Convention to rewrite that sorry remnant of darker times (because our current leaders are SO much smarter than the Framers and besides what could possibly go wrong?), contention over something as specific as an AP curriculum can be a bit bewildering for those not walking daily in that world.
What exactly IS the kerfuffle with the ‘new’ College Board Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course and exam?
Every curriculum, every textbook, every teacher in every class makes judgments (consciously or not) about what’s important and what it means. We can try to reduce that bias, but if I assign Shakespeare instead of Marlowe, I’m making a judgment. If I choose eight Supreme Court cases through which to explore the judicial process, I’m suggesting some big issues are more important than others. It’s just how it is. We can’t teach everything. Heck, many days we’re not sure we can teach the basics. Decisions have to be made, and some conflict is appropriate. But this goes beyond that.
Frederick J. Chiaventone, commenting on his own novel Moon of Bitter Cold:
One of the great delights of the historical novelist is the license to hang flesh on the bones of the actors and set the blood pumping through their veins. While the purist may decry this practice, others will find it useful and perhaps informative. There is a sense in which fiction can reveal more to us more of the truth than history in that historians are frequently constrained by their reliance on relics, some written, which are in themselves the products of imperfect and differently motivated human beings.
So while the historian can at best provide an objective account of the facts (however incomplete or imperfect), it is the province of the novelist to address not only the objective facts of a period and a people but their passions as well. To paraphrase Macaulay, it can be the difference between a topographical map and a painted landscape.
I like this, but Chiaventone does seem to lean towards a truth more at home in Kate Chopin than Doris Kearns Goodwin. He seems to promote moving past the factual in order to capture more important truths - which wistorical fiction can, and often does. But in my mind that’s not the most important or purest sort of historical fiction. Let’s try another…
Perhaps you or someone you love are familiar with popular inner narratives such as…
“The Legend of the Frustrating Spouse Who’s Probably Never Going to Change So I Just Have To Bear My Cross and Deal With Him/Her.”
“Snow White Intentions and the Little Lies That Never Hurt Anyone.”
“The Story of the Woman Who Got Fatter and Older No Matter What She Did.”
“One More Step: How Real Happiness is Just a Few More Accomplishments Away.”
Oh be careful little mind what you think – words have power, and stories have lots of words.