Recently, the Oklahoma legislature voted overwhelmingly to reject advanced placement history courses in Oklahoma high schools. The reason? They apparently felt that AP History was not being sufficiently deferential to white people in American history. AP history dwelt too long on (that is, it mentioned) slavery and the genocide against Native Americans. Instead, Oklahoma legislators apparently feel, history courses should teach students about how America is God’s Chosen Nation (maybe second only to Israel), and teach them that Manifest Destiny (the notion that America was destined to subjugate all other people from sea to shining sea), an idea most people gave up over a century ago, was really true.
That is, the legislature wants Oklahoma teachers to teach racist fairy tales to students. This has long been the case with creationist fairy tales in science classes, and is now true in history classes as well. Somehow they have not yet figured out that the AP Biology Course has evolution as the first of its four “big ideas”.
I believe that the following would be a reasonable catechism for the Oklahoma version of American history:
Q: Why did Columbus cross the ocean blue?
A: To bring the light of God to the Natives, for which they would pay him in gold, and by being raped and butchered, praise God.
Q: Why did God put Native Americans on the continent?
A: To prepare the land for use by Christian whites pouring in from Europe, praise God.
Q: Why did the American government force the individuals of the Cherokee and other tribes, many of them Christians, to march to Oklahoma?
A: So that white people could take the gold that the Cherokees were not mining and the land that they were merely farming, praise God.
Q: Why was this action justified?
A: Because the Cherokees were savages. They merely lived in white-style houses, raised cattle, and had a written language and newspaper, which shows that they were inferior, praise God.
Q: Why did the American government force the Cherokees to divide up their tribal land into individual allotments?
A: So that the godless practice of communal land ownership (communism) could be stamped out, praise God.
Q: Why were Cherokees forced into special schools?
A: Because these ignorant savages merely had their own written language and the highest literacy rate in the world, higher than white Americans, and the whites were embarrassed, praise God.
Q: Why should black slaves have been grateful to their masters?
A: Because black rulers in Africa also kept slaves, and treated them worse than American slave owners did. (This last one I heard from a Confederate flag salesman in Tushka, Oklahoma, last year.)
Q: Aren’t you forgetting something?
A: Praise God.
Oklahoma already is one of the poorest states in terms of education, by numerous measures. For example, Oklahoma teachers get paid well below the national average for any jobs, not just for teaching jobs. What to do about this problem? Obviously, the legislators think, the thing to do is to prohibit these underpaid teachers from teaching the truth. Already, high-tech industries seldom set up shop in Oklahoma because of the shortage of qualified graduates. These graduates not only need to know a lot but need to know how to think. What to do about this? Teach them to believe, and to not think.
To make matters worse, AP courses count as college credit, which means that Oklahoma graduates will have to pay tuition to take history courses when they get to college, which increases the cost burden on students from Oklahoma—students who can barely afford college as it is.
To summarize what the Oklahoma legislature has done by eliminating AP history courses:
- Students will have to learn false information about American history.
- Students will be trained to believe rather than to think.
- Students will have a greater course load and financial burden if and when they get to college.
Stay tuned for what might come next. The legislature has two creationist bills that are ready to enter into committees. This has happened every year for over a decade. But this year, the legislature seems to believe that using critical thinking skills to evaluate facts is, itself, a threat to their power. For the first time in many years I have very little optimism that the spirit of education, as opposed to the spirit of catechism, will survive in Oklahoma.