My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

September 7, 2022: APUSH Studying: Flaws and Limits

[I’m not the only one gearing up for a new school year at the moment—so are my 11th and 10th grade (!!!) sons. That includes my 11th grader taking AP US History, a complicated and controversial and very AmericanStudies high school class. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of APUSH contexts—share your responses and your thoughts on all things high school US history for a crowd-sourced weekend post sure to make the honor roll!]

On two elephants in the room when it comes to AP courses, and a way to respond to them.

By the end of high school, I had a running joke about the College Board/ETS employee who was enjoying a very nice (and quite lengthy) tropical vacation thanks to just the money I and my family had spent on standardized tests. There were plenty of tests that contributed to that armored car’s worth, but at the top of the list have to be the six AP Exams priced at over $70 a pop. I haven’t looked at the current costs (by this time next year I’ll know well, as my son is taking two AP classes next year), but I have to believe they have likely gone up significantly over these last 30 years. To put it bluntly (and a bit reductively to be sure), I think there are aspects of the AP system that are a scam (and I’m not alone in thinking it, as that hyperlinked article illustrates), or at the very least a racket (ditto). And even if there were ways to justify them, these substantive costs unquestionably make AP classes like APUSH less available to all American students than would be ideal.

The costs aren’t the only factor in that exclusionary issue: so is the standardized test that concludes APUSH (like all AP courses). I’m not talking here about the “teaching to the test” problem, although that is certainly a problem worth considering in any class which builds to a standardized test. No, I’m thinking here about the demonstrable racial and cultural biases in standardized tests as an educational and assessment tool, the ways in which they have long since been proven (and proven, and proven) to discriminate against students of color and other learning communities. That’s a problem with any and all standardized tests, and one of many reasons for example why so many colleges have begun moving away from them in admissions processes and decisions. But it’s doubly a problem when such a test is the overarching focus of an entire high school class—and triply a problem when we’re talking about a class like APUSH, that overtly focuses on historical and social and cultural subjects.

That last point might compound the problem, but I would also argue that it offers a way for APUSH teachers, students, and classes to respond to both of these interconnected problems. I know that they can’t ignore the AP Exam, and I’m not suggesting that they should—instead, I’m suggesting that they take a meta-testual (that’s my own term, and I kinda dig it) approach, thinking as part of the course about how the test itself offers a case study in these issues and themes of economics and class, of race and culture, of exclusion and inclusion. That doesn’t have to be the whole conversation, of course, but it can and should be part of the discussion, as a way to engage honestly and thoughtfully with the class’s own flaws and limits, and at the same time as a way to transcend them through (or at the very least utilize them to engage) the vital subjects that they, like every part of APUSH, exemplify.

Next APUSH context tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Contexts or stories for APUSH or high school history you’d share? Great teachers you’d highlight?

No comments:

Post a Comment