Bell, Gresham echo RNC attacks on American history course, seek state investigation

Advanced Placement U.S. History could become a new education battleground in Tennessee after a pair of Republican state senators have alleged the course leaves out key founding fathers, principles of the Declaration of Independence and iconic American figures, according to The Tennessean.

The allegations, the newspaper says, mirror attacks waged by conservatives nationally. And it comes a year after the same two senators took on social studies textbooks they said were biased, a push that resulted in lawmakers getting new say on who sits on the state’s textbook commission.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, R-Riceville, have requested the Tennessee State Board of Education to conduct a review of new framework and materials used in the teaching of Advanced Placement U.S. History.

AP courses, overseen by The College Board, a private company that manages the SAT test, are elective high school classes that cover a range of subjects, allowing students to earn college credit if they score high enough on end-of-year exams.

The Republican National Committee earlier this month came out against the new framework The College Board has turned to for AP U.S. History — “APUSH,” as it is commonly called. Changes are reflected in final exams for the first time this year, but the RNC has called for a one-year delay. A column in the National Review earlier this week contends it will “force American high schools to teach U.S. history from a leftist perspective.”

“There are many concerns with the new APUSH framework, not the least of which is that it pushes a revisionist interpretation of historical facts,” echoed Gresham in a statement on Tuesday. “The items listed as required knowledge have some inclusions which are agenda-driven, while leaving out basic facts that are very important to our nation’s history.”

College Board officials have rejected such charges. But the two Tennessee senators want the state board of education to provide a public forum to let parents speak on the matter.

David Sevier, deputy director for the state board of education, said the board would likely follow the request. What the review would look like is unclear. He said the special hearing would likely be carved into the board’s regularly meeting schedule. It meets next in October.

Gresham and Bell — copying much of the language used in a resolution approved by the RNC — have alleged that the new AP U.S. History framework included “little or no discussion of the founding fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence.” Moreover, they say, the framework negatively portrays settlers’ explorations of America, American involvement in World War II, and the development of and victory in the Cold War.

The Commercial Appeal notes that the Bell-Gresham letter says “members of the General Assembly have received an increasing number of messages from constituents” about AP courses, including ‘complaints of inappropriate materials, inaccurate textbooks and revisionist history’.” Further:

Neither Bell nor Gresham directly responded Tuesday to a reporter’s request to review the complaints, but the Senate Republican Caucus’s press liaison said “the vast majority are from telephone calls to their offices,” that Bell routinely deletes email after answering it and that Gresham is concerned about a “breach of privacy” regarding release of email from constituents.

James Teague, superintendent of Fayette County Schools in Gresham’s home county, said his office has “not received a single complaint or concern” about AP U.S. history offered in his school system and that Gresham had not contacted him about the issue. State Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said her agency has received no formal complaints either.