Comments on AP History “Guidelines”

For a few years I taught high school history, including the AP sections. These were great fun because my students were motivated and I could assign them more than I can currently assign my college juniors.

There is great concern now about the new Advanced Placement standards for the test. I AM NOT AN EXPERT ON THE TEST. I haven’t read all of it, but the parts I have read are troubling. It seems that there is a significant bent toward criticizing America as opposed to simply learning America’s history. The questions seem to be heavily tilted toward the negative aspects of our past and ignore or minimize the overwhelmingly positive events.

Let me suggest something that many of you might not like: don’t have your students take AP History. It is—again, I say this having taught it—something of a “cheat” in that it allows a motivated student to test out of a regular college U.S. History class. That’s not always a good thing. As a college teacher now, I know that a great deal goes on in the classroom, including (yes) information brought by students that is informative, thought-provoking, and overall beneficial. More than once, I’ve had a super-motivated student pick up an error (usually in a picture in a powerpoint show where I got the wrong general). The point is, American history as it is supposed to be taught is more than “what is on the test.” I am absolutely a believer in “content”: names, dates, battles, etc. But there is also more than mere content: there is listening to others’ views, absorbing their ideas—and if those ideas are wrong, learning how to confront them in a civilized and logical manner.

Many parents are rightly concerned that their kids will get a leftist professor. Well, if the AP Test itself is badly biased, they can’t do any worse. But they may do much better. You have some likelihood of getting either a fair liberal or a conservative, and especially if the student is taught by non-tenured lecturers, the likelihood of getting someone more conservative increases, because many of these people specifically AREN’T tenured because the liberal system has worked against them. Most often this occurs because they have done a “conservative” dissertation topic (a biography, for example, or anything except “race class gender”) so they have had to settle for lectureships. Also, lacking tenure, non-tenured instructors are more likely to be fair so as not to lose their positions.

In short, yes, we should fight to stop the new AP History standards, and overturn them if they are passed. But if they are passed, students can always go the old-fashioned route: take the class!