AP U.S. History (APUSH) is easily one of the most important classes I have taken in high school. APUSH has sparked my love for history to greater lengths than any other class has; it has helped make my ambition to be a history teacher obvious. I gladly and willingly participate in every class activity, simulation, and discussion. However, I have come to the conclusion that some of our in-class simulations may be problematic in that they promote hateful racial ideals.
One of the very first activities in APUSH is a simulation of the U.S. constitutional convention. Each student was assigned a state to represent during a debate on whether or not slaves should be included in population count in regards to Congressional seats. Our teacher explained that delegates representing slave states should argue that slaves should be included and those representing free states should argue that they should not, with the goal for each state being greater federal power. The competition took away from the fact that we were debating the worth of a human being. No one argued that slaves should be counted as part of the population because they deserved basic human rights. Most argued that it cost money for the state to support them so they should therefore receive support from the House.
AP students are competitive in nature. If you give them a challenge, not many of them will stop and analyze the things they are actually saying. Most will say anything to win.
As I say this, I take full responsibility for my actions. I’m completely guilty of blindly participating in mildly racist APUSH simulations. I was one of four students that participated in a debate over whether the U.S. should annex the Philippines. Our debate was said to have taken place in the early 1900s, so I bluntly included the idea that Asians were inferior to the Anglo-Saxon race in my argument.
The issue is not that our activities are set in a time of extreme racial tension, it’s that we do little to acknowledge how problematic our statements and actions are. Before we do any activity that involves racist views, my teacher gives a disclaimer that the things we say shouldn’t accurately reflect our own views; they should reflect the views of someone living in the time period we are simulating. While this disclaimer is important, it doesn’t do enough. We are allowed to be racist in activities that we barely focus on race. Race is a component in every simulation, but it is never the main idea we perpetuate; it’s merely the side effect of our real intention. The solution is to still play these activities but instead put a greater emphasis on race.
APUSH does what most history classes do. It does not do enough to touch on the history behind oppression and discrimination in the United States, and this is perpetuated by our in-class simulations. In order for these simulations to be less problematic, they must put a greater emphasis on our hateful speech.