This commentary originally appeared in Forbes on July 29, 2016.
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” So wrote George Orwell, author of the dystopian classic, 1984. According to a recent study issued by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), the College Board is well on its way to obliterating Americans’ understanding of their history.
Authored by David Randall, an historian of early modern Europe, the NAS study, The Disappearing Continent, exposes the College Board’s new Advanced Placement European History course (APEH) for what it is—ideology masquerading as historical scholarship, which “warps and guts” European history, transforming it into a “neo-Marxist generic narrative.” Randall adds that the College Board’s “progressive distortion of European history powerfully resembles the bias in its 2014 Advanced Placement United States History examination (APUSH).” Like APUSH, APEH serves the College Board’s “long march to impose leftist history on the half a million American high school students each year who prepare themselves for college by taking APUSH or APEH.”
What does this “leftist history” look like? Consider what the APEH course teaches—and doesn’t teach. To begin, nowhere is there so much as a mention of Christopher Columbus or Winston Churchill. Nor is there a discussion of Britain’s “distinctive history in the European tradition as the champion of liberty.” In fact, liberty itself is not a salient theme. “APEH presents the history of government rather than of liberty,” writes Randall.
Europe’s religious history receives the same tendentious treatment. APEH depicts “religion as an instrument of power rather than as an autonomous sphere of European history.” So biased is APEH regarding the role of religion that it somehow manages to “teach” the history of the movement to abolish slavery “without mentioning how it was inspired by religious faith, led by saints such as William Wilberforce.”
If religion is demoted or ignored by APEH, the same cannot be said of its treatment of communism. APEH “minimizes and extenuates the evils of communism, the brutal destructiveness of Soviet rule, and the aggressiveness of Soviet foreign policy.” Think about that for a moment. Studies put the citizen death count under Stalin at no fewer than 50 million souls (between 1924 and 1953), and this numberexcludes wartime casualties. Yet the enormity of these deeds somehow escapes APEH’s notice. In fact, APEH strains hard to erect a rhetorical wall of moral equivalence between the Cold-War West and the old Soviet bloc.
Perhaps worst of all, not only does APEH teach history badly, it seems unable or unwilling to justify its own existence. “APEH doesn’t argue that European history is important or interesting in itself. APEH never gives a reason why students should study Europe’s history in particular.” It never remarks that “Americans should study Europe’s past because it is our history.” Why such a glaring omission?
Orwell’s 1984 contains the following Party slogan: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” The College Board at present controls the Advanced Placement tests. It is leveraging its present power to shove a biased account of the past down unsuspecting students’ throats. In the future, some of these students will become America’s leaders. But what is the identity of the “America” they hope to lead? They cannot know, insofar as they look for guidance to the College Board. Nor can they be expected to defend what they “cannot define,” as George Will notes.
Not only will our students be unable to define America, but also, what they think they know about it—as taught by APEH and APUSH—will likely consist of the anti-liberty, anti-free-markets, “progressive” agenda they have learned. Ronald Reagan cautioned that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” How long will this generation’s students, indoctrinated in anti-American ideology, be willing and able to defend the rights to which, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, “they are endowed by their Creator”?
Orwell’s 1984 offers another Party slogan: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” APEH’s distortions assure that its students will remain in ignorance. From this ignorance arises the strength of the anti-liberty agenda APEH seeks to promote. In time, there will be few if any left that remember why this country declared independence, why it announced the then-revolutionary notion that “all men are created equal,” why it guaranteed religious liberty, and why it argued that our rights come not from government but from our “Creator.” In sum, for APEH, ignorance of the history of liberty strengthens the College Board’s ultimate desire: remaking America to fit its ideology.
“Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever.” So wrote the Roman philosopher and statesman, Cicero. Is America in danger of entering a second childhood? If the College Board has its way, this country’s core principles of political and religious liberty, limited government, and free enterprise likely won’t even make it to childhood. They will be strangled in their cradles, courtesy of those to whom we’ve entrusted the education of our children.