I must begin with a confession: I am not a fan of standardized tests. I am also not a fan of the College Board, or of AP classes in general. That said, I have followed with great interest the debate in Colorado over curricular changes in AP American history courses. A few days ago, an entry from the N Y Times editorial page editor's blog included a link to a full practice test based on the new AP curriculum. And yes, I got curious.
The questions were fairly bland and straight-forward. Nothing really jumped out at me (though maybe that's the point, a critic might argue). Until I came to page 13.
At the top of the page was a quotation, followed by four questions. This was the quote:
“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing the unanimous opinion of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1954
One of the questions asked the following:
16. Which of the following sets of Supreme Court decisions demonstrated the strongest continuity with the idea expressed in the excerpt?
(A) Decisions endorsing the constitutionality of the death penalty, such as Gregg v. Georgia
(B) Decisions limiting affirmative action programs, such as Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
(C) Decisions defining individual rights and protections, such as Miranda v. Arizona
(D) Decisions defining election laws, such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
I am pretty sure I know what the answer is. But I also know that I disagree with their answer.
To be sure, the conservative critique has a great deal of bite. But where are these same conservatives when school boards across the country attempt to manipulate curricula and enact standardized tests that accord with their ideas and ideological commitments?
If the point is ideological neutrality, then they lost me. But I am sure they know better. The point instead is that these tests, and curricula in general, are laden with ideology and as such must be seen for what they are, cultural and ideological battlegrounds. Conservatives know that. This is why they are not fighting for an objective view of history. No such thing exists. They are fighting for their view.
This should be a battle cry for those who think that school board elections don't matter. Not only the future, but what we make of the past, is at stake.
(The answer to the question, why the way, might be (B). But come on.)