26 April 2022
Since the beginning of 2021, at least 17 states have passed measures aimed at how public schools can teach highly debated subjects, says the publication EducationWeek.
These efforts, however, have caused concern among some teachers of Advanced Placement, or AP, classes. These are college-level classes taught to high school students. AP classes in U.S. History, for example, require discussion of subjects like slavery and European colonization.
Legislative measures aimed at limiting disputed ideas in schools have been mainly led by Republican Party lawmakers. Some of the measures are aimed at preventing the teaching of Critical Race Theory, or CRT.
CRT is a way of understanding American society that places great importance on how race shaped its politics and culture. It is taught in universities. Some officials say there is little evidence that CRT is being taught a lot in American public schools.
EducationWeek says several other states have similar bills currently under consideration. It has been following efforts to pass these kinds of education measures around the country.
The measures are different depending on where they are being introduced. In Ohio, for example, a bill that was introduced last May would ban school districts from "teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts." Divisive concepts are ideas that cause a lot of disagreement between people. A New Hampshire bill would ban teaching "a negative account or representation of the founding and history of the United States of America..."
But some teachers doubt it is possible to teach some subjects without raising questions that cause people to disagree. Tassie Zahner is an AP American history teacher in Montgomery County, Maryland. She told VOA last year that it would be very hard to teach her class without teaching America's history of racism.
"In order to teach an AP U.S. history class correctly you have to talk about those things," she said. "You can't prepare students...if you're not teaching the truth about U.S. history."
AP is a nationwide program that provides high school students with college-level classes. Through the AP program, students can, in many cases, earn credit towards a college degree. Classes offered include history, English, math and art.
The College Board is the non-profit organization based in New York City that creates the curriculum for high school AP classes. AP classes are unlike other classes in American high schools. The curriculum of most classes is set by local school districts.
The College Board told EducationWeek in January that it does not know of any examples "in which state requirements conflict with the standards of college-level AP courses." But in March, the group sent teachers a reminder of AP's most important ideas and values, called principles. The principles suggest the organization could bar schools from offering AP classes in districts where teachers are limited in what they can teach.
Students are "expected to analyze different perspectives from their own," the principles state. The AP statement of principles also says: "if a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities."
Most of the legislative measures are aimed at kindergarten through 12th grade schools. But the New York-based non-profit organization PEN America says it found 40 bills that target what can be taught at colleges and universities.
Some political officials have said they oppose the teaching of disputed ideas in colleges.
Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said on Twitter in February: "I will not stand by and let looney Marxist (University of Texas) professors poison the minds of young students with Critical Race Theory." He added: "We banned it in publicly funded K-12 and we will ban it in publicly funded higher ed."
Some college professors oppose many of the bills. In a statement last year, the American Association of University Professors said that when "politicians mandate the academic content that faculty can and cannot teach ... they prevent colleges and universities from fulfilling their missions."
Frank Scott is an AP U.S. history teacher in Texas. He said discussing topics like racism and violence in the U.S. do not make students dislike the country.
He told EducationWeek that "When you're honest with the things that are not very pleasant...you have students that come around to loving this country even more, because of what it's been through."
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak wrote this story for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
advocate — v. to support or argue for
negative — adj. harmful or bad
curriculum — n. the courses that are taught by a school, college, etc.
district — n. an area or section of a country, city, or town
standard — n. a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable
perspective — n. a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable
looney — adj. crazy or foolish
faculty — n. the group of teachers in a school or college