Friday, October 19, 2007

AP American History

Recently there have been some posts on various blogs about how little college graduates know of American History. Last night I was wandering the library and saw a study guide for the AP American History test, I picked it up wondering what they expect high school seniors to know for the AP test. Yikes. This book is so full of errors that I seriously wonder if these kids know anything of the war.

The first section that caught my eye was the "Key People" section. There were nearly as many women listed as Confederates. I don't doubt that women made a key effort to the war but to list 3 women and 5 Confederates seems to give them much more credit than is necessary. The Confederates listed were not even that big of figures which puzzled me. They were General Stonewall Jackson, General Stand Watie, John Slidell, James Mason and General John Johnston. I think they meant Joe Johnston. Except for Jackson I don't think the others really contributed much. Slidell and Mason came the closest to achieving their goals by being captured by an overzealous Union captain. Watie is on the list because of his status as an Indian fighting for the Confederacy not for anything he accomplished on the battlefield. The women listed were Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix and Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (who I had to look up, she was the first woman doctor in the US). Two other civilians were listed, Clement Vallandigham and Hinton Helper. The list also has 6 Union officers, pretty standard commanders except no mention of Grant or Sherman (Grant is listed in the "Key People" section for Reconstruction). The reason give for Meade is that he was the Union commander at Gettysburg and "did not follow rout of Confederates." This seems kinda harsh. First off I don't think the Confederate retreat can be classified a rout and secondly Meade did pursue, just not fast enough to give battle but he probably was not in any condition to offer a huge battle anyway.

Some of the other problems with the book came from its over generalization or simple poor word choice. In reviewing the positives and negatives of each side during mobilization it said that the Union had twice as many soldiers but a smaller army, that should probably have read twice as many possible soldiers. The Confederacy also had "more and better officers." I think early in the war a generalization could be made that the South's officer corps in general was better, but I don't think anyone would ever say the South had more officers.

In its section of African Americans in the army it says "When white soldiers refused to serve with blacks, a few states, like Massachusetts, formed all-black regiments, often led by white officers." This makes it sound like there were integrated units until whites said no thanks, and then they made all black units. And "often led by white officers" would indicate that there were times that the black regiments were led by black officers. These are both wrong. I do seem to recall a black becoming a commissioned officer late in the war, or just after the war, but a google search this morning didn't turn up much. In any case that would be only one regiment out 180,000 men. It also said that the Confiscation Act of 1861 said that any slaves who fled their masters would be free forever. I was under the impression that it, officially, freed only those escaped slaves who had worked for the Confederacy. In reality it did free all escaped slaves but the Act did not free actually do so.

The Union military objectives are listed, in order, as; capture Richmond, gain control of the Mississippi and blockade Southern ports. And this is what they eventually did but I don't think the capture of Richmond was really the top priority. Maybe to Horace Greeley it was but I think Lincoln was more concerned with just putting an end to it. In the end that meant destroying much of Lee's army and Sherman tearing up the South before Richmond could fall. It also says that capturing Richmond would weaken Southern morale. This is true but to a point. I think if McClellan, Burnside or Hooker had captured Richmond it would not have ended the war, the government would have just gone elsewhere; perhaps to Charleston, Atlanta, Montgomery or where ever else seemed good.

A few battles are discussed but the effects of the battle on the war is what this book gets at. It again makes a few over generalizations. It says when Grant captured Vicksburg it opened the entire Mississippi. Port Hudson was still holding out but did fall soon. Then it said that when Grant took Chattanooga Lincoln put him in command of the entire army. I think Chattanooga sealed Lincoln's decision but nothing happened for a few months.

In the section on the blockade it said that the tightening blockade forced the Confederates to turn church bells into cannon since nothing was coming in. But I thought this happened much sooner than 1864. I was under the impression that this happened as early as 1862, never on a huge scale but was being done. Is there a foundry expert out there to enlighten me?

Talking about Lincoln's 10 per cent Reconstruction plan the book said that Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana and Virginia had formed governments based on this plan before the assassination. I'm not sure on this one but seriously doubt Virginia did this. There just doesn't seem to be enough time for them to have formed a new government. The other three states had been occupied for quite awhile so they had the time to form new governments. Virginia doesn't seem to have had the time, unless the new government was based in Fredericksburg or Manassas.

Post war politics is referred to as "the bloody flag." I've always heard to it as "the bloody shirt."

In the the sample test section it says that Lincoln never believed in black suffrage. Yet in its own book it says that Lincoln eventually came around to believe in limited black suffrage, for soldiers and the very intelligent. Online I found a site that says in an April 11, 1865 speech Lincoln advocated black voting rights for the highly intelligent and soldiers. The source the website cites is Basler's collected works so even though I have not yet confirmed it I believe the website to be correct.

In all this book really scared me that this is what they teach high schoolers for the AP American History test. There were a ton of errors, plus things like "John Johnston" make me wonder if anyone reviewed it at all. Its no wonder that college graduates couldn't answer simple fact tests.


Kevin said...

Nick, -- Please understand that what you looked through was not the AP course, but a guide of which there are many. The AP curriculum as outlined does not list every fact that needs to be taught or remembered by students. It is more a set of skills, including analytical writing and interpretive skills that must be taught before the AP test in May. There is no standard textbook that AP teachers must use and the guidebooks are completely independent. There are plenty that are first rate and just as many that are garbage. If you are interested in the AP course I recommend going to the College Board website.

Kevin at Civil War Memory

Nick said...

I understand this was just one guide book to the test but it was a very bad study guide.