A lot of TU students were very upset when an Oklahoma legislative committee overwhelmingly voted to move forward a bill that would eliminate AP U.S. History from the curriculum of public Oklahoma high schools for supposedly emphasizing “what is bad about America.”
The outrage against the bill was entirely warranted. AP U.S. History encourages critical thinking—critical thinking that pushes students to question the very institutions, they, as Americans, have spent whole lives praising and to which they pledge their allegiance to every day.
A lot of Oklahomans who value the kind of learning promoted by AP classes acted upon that outrage. They called their legislators; they utilized their networks of families and friends.
And guess what? That reaction led Rep. Fisher to backpedal. He says he’s working to fix the bill as it was “very poorly worded and incredibly ambiguous,” and that he’s “very supportive of the AP program.”
We need to question our state government in the exact same manner promoted by AP U.S. History. Not only that, but we, as civic-minded young people, need to stand up and be active participants in state and local politics.
I wish I could say that the kind of close-minded thinking that prioritizes the egos of old politicians over the development of its citizens was isolated. But unfortunately this short-sidedness is a prominent feature of the state we call home.
Oklahoma ranks 49th in per pupil spending and has cut more education funding per student than any other state in the last two years. Our infrastructure is crumbling. We incarcerate more women than any other state. Our legislature refuses to make investments in its future while increasing unnecessary tax cuts to the top income bracket and expanding existing tax breaks, ultimately contributing to the $611 million budget shortfall this year.
It’s easy to point to the proposal to ban AP U.S. History and say “this is fundamentally screwing over future generations.” It’s a lot harder to look a complicated tax structure and do the same.
When our legislature prioritizes its short-term political interest over the long-term commitment it has to Oklahoma citizens, it fails to meet its obligation to generational fairness. While AP U.S. History is incredibly important, Oklahoma’s failure to meet its obligation is inherently a greater threat to young people than the banning of one high school class.
It takes the same kind of critical thinking we were taught in AP U.S. History to see that our generation is really getting screwed. That $611 million budget shortfall is primarily getting filled with one-time funds that cannot be sustained, thus leaving the burden on future generations.
While we may have won the battle over APUSH, young people are losing the war.
However, if the battle over APUSH taught us anything, is that we can mobilize and truly influence policy. We can call our representatives, energize our friends and family, and advocate for generationally responsible policies.
That’s what Common Sense Action (CSA), the organization I brought to TU last fall, is working towards. This semester we’re advocating for legislation that prioritizes young people, such as education, infrastructure and sustainable taxing policies.
We’re calling and meeting with our representatives, making our voices heard. We’re also working to raise awareness of millennial issues through events, social media campaigns, and petitions.
Active awareness of the actions taken by the Oklahoma legislature takes time and effort, as do activism and responsiveness. At the same time, the costs of inaction is even greater. The longer Oklahoma continues this trend, the more millennials will have to pay both now and down the road.