Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tilting at Windmills, Vol. 1, No. 10

The AP American History Course 

     Last year a great big ruckus was raised over the AP American History course. It seemed to some people that the course was not including as much "indoctrination" type history as it used to which of course was not in alignment with their way of thinking. Quite a few people jumped on this bandwagon and began to decry the new standards. Even state legislators made a pitch to prevent this course from taking place in their states. As is usually the case, the entire affair turned out to be just another entry in the culture wars. However, the root of the complaint turned out to be something else.

     After doing some digging, the complaints about the AP American History course seem to have come from one individual, Mr. Larry Krieger. This individual started lodging complaints about the course saying that it omitted the Founding Fathers, religion, founding principles of the nation, and many individuals like George Washington. One of my fellow bloggers, J.L. Bell who runs the Boston 1775 blog ran a nice series on this subject. I highly recommend you read his series of articles and the comments. Boston 1775 First AP entry of Four

     Basically to condense this, Mr. Krieger was trying to manipulate the information because he stands to lose money with the new AP History Course. Mr. Krieger is the founder of Insider Test Prep, a company that makes test guides for AP courses. Insider Test Prep The College Board who runs the AP History course made changes in the format which basically eliminate Mr. Krieger's test guide from being of any use. Instead of memorizing facts which was the way the course operated in the past, the newer course requires analytical thinking. In short, the pedagogy involved with teaching the course changed.

     As an American History teacher who has taught the survey course in a community college setting, I have left the old lecture model behind. It does not engage students in any meaningful learning. There is a reason why students hate history. The lectures are boring. They serve no purpose. There is no real learning going on with a lecture model based course on history. This is the old AP model and the system the tests were built on. New AP American History

    The new model is inquiry based learning. Lecture is still involved, but should be minimized. The emphasis is now on why events happened in the past. Memorization of facts is still important, but unless one understands the context involved, the memorized facts are pretty meaningless. Since the argument over the Confederate battle flag and the Civil War is still ongoing, let's look at that from the new AP model. 

     Under the new model, the emphasis is now on why the Civil War started and how. A student should be able to say why it occurred and how events took place that led to it. In other words, they should be able to employ analytical thinking in developing their answer. Since the answer is slavery, the students should be able to describe why slavery was the cause. This is also why many of the rag wavers have problems with this. One cannot say state's rights was the cause because when analytical thinking is employed it becomes pretty apparent that state's rights had nothing to do with the cause of the Civil War at all.

     I think that's a pretty good reason why the new pedagogy is better for the AP American History test as well as for any history course. You can memorize all the facts you want, but unless you can put them to use in answering analytical questions it is nothing but trivia. Guess what? Students love history in this new pedagogical model. They embrace it. They learn history. They develop their critical thinking skills which are what employers want more than anything else. How do we know this? The employers told us that is what they want! What Employers Want

     So as a result, I am constructing every class I teach around analytical learning. This is not easy and it takes some work to do. Yet, my students are telling me that this is what they want. Mr. Krieger may not like it, nor may many of the people that failed to look at the facts when he started his whining, but Mr. Krieger seems to be more interested in his financial profits than student learning. I have a REALLY BIG issue with that and so should you. 


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