The debate around the new AP US History standards hits all of the tensions between coverage v. skills. Omit the wrong president and someone will cry “revisionist!” The National Council for History Education’s position on the standards is, as expected, level-headed and grounded in what should be our goals as history teachers.
Multiple- choice questions, often derided as “multiple guess,” will now relate to historical evidence, such as documents, images, and maps, and require students to reason rather than simply recall. There will be short essays specifically designed to assess proficiency in historical thinking, as well as command of content knowledge. Longer essays, written in response to Document-Based Questions, will also show students’ ability to understand, interpret, and apply historical evidence. These skills will serve them well in college and throughout their lives. Of course, historical thinking requires that students have some history to think about, and to that end the APUSH Framework includes a concept outline, but offers teachers considerable latitude in deciding how to flesh it out. Given that latitude, complaints about omissions from, and a political bias in, the Framework seem misplaced. Besides, teaching students how to think for themselves is the best antidote to the dangers cited by APUSH critics.