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 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?
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.”