AP claims to create ‘apprentice historians’

The New AP History course promises to turn high school students into “apprentice historians,” writes Peter Wood on the National Association of Scholars blog. Don’t hold your breath.

The newly designed course “distorts U.S. history, argue Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, and Larry Krieger, a retired AP U.S. history teacher. Krieger followed up here.

The new framework — which is much more detailed than earlier versions — “relentlessly advances a negative view of America,” writes Wood. There’s lots about racism, but little about the Declaration of Independence or George Washington.

The College Board explains the course:

. . . focuses on the development of historical thinking skills (chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative) and an understanding of content learning objectives organized around seven themes, such as identity, peopling, and America in the world.

. . . the course is designed to encourage students to become apprentice historians.”

That’s flattering, writes Wood. Eleventh graders “are no longer merely students striving to get a foundation in facts and understanding, but rather young professionals in a learned academic discipline ready to develop their command of sophisticated analytic and synthetic skills.”

This very much falls within the zone of contemporary education where colleges and universities—and schools—trip over themselves to assure students that they possess such insight and blazing intelligence that they can skip the learn-how-to-swim courses and go straight to the Olympic relay team.

To be sure, really bright high school students should indeed begin to work on chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative.  But they aren’t going to get very far on these sophisticated skills if they are not also acquiring a well-landscaped understanding of the big picture, a richly detailed recall of historical sequence, and a genuine familiarity with key people and key documents.

The assumption seems to be that ignorant students can look up what they don’t know, writes Wood. But what if they don’t know what they don’t know?

Here are Wood’s updates.

An Australian writes about teaching World History at a U.S. university.  His students couldn’t “write like a historian” because they couldn’t write grammatically, he complains.

In addition, “their knowledge of events, places, ideas, and people outside the United States was sometimes startlingly limited. Ho Chi Minh may as well have been the local Asian takeaway place,” writes Jamie Miller, who taught at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. “Some students seemed scarily unfamiliar with a world map.”

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  1. I think that John Green and his brother and their Crash Course channel (especially U.S. History / World History) already fits the bill here!

  2. D's Squirrel Food says:

    These criticisms are just fine with regards to a general HS history course. But AP is supposed to be college level work, and should require some college level reasoning. The grousing about the coverage of America’s uglier events is just head-in-the-sand nationalism.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    The grousing is not about “coverage” but about emphasis. The implication is that, if we can show a default from perfect, we’ve proven America is awful.
    You know this. I know this. I know you know this.
    As for reasoning, how’s this? WW II was caused in part because of the Versailles Treaty being mean to Germans. But, since they started WW I without the Versailles Treaty, perhaps they can multitask and the stuff about the Versaiiles Treaty is nonsense.
    Now, that’s perfectly correct, but not likely to be acceptable.
    “Reasoning” is good or bad depending on the acceptability of the result.
    You know this. I know this. I know you know this.
    I was tutoring an immigrant about WW II. His worksheet had about fifty items, many having to do with the treatment of blacks, and internment of Japanese Americans. Seven had to do with the war. So perhaps this satisfies a number of the Zinnified, but if your concern is about learning about WW II, it’s close to useless. Which, as I say, will no doubt satisify the Zinnified.