By now, I’m sure that you’ve received several emails pertaining to the truncating of World History for the purposes of the AP exam. While I applaud your willingness to reform curricula and exams (and have been encouraged by some changes to Euro and World Histories over the past few years), the halving of this curriculum is anathema to our students’ comprehension of the story of humanity. At our school, we have a wide range of ethnic and religious groups, particularly East Asian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern. Our high school curriculum is AP oriented and our students take the AP World exam in 8th grade, AP US Government in 9th, AP Euro in 10th, and AP US History in 11th. BASIS operates 28 schools (and expanding annually) with the above demographics and curriculum and is unlikely to adopt pre-AP courses, since we measure our students’ performance on national and international examinations, which pre-AP does not include. This approach has allowed us to capture the top five positions in the US News and World Report secondary school rankings in 2018.
To begin the course at 1450 (or even at 1300 as many of us do in AP Euro) will deny our students a full three months of content and the origins of civilizations that are essential to their own lives and cultures. If our goal is to make students care about humanity and to become active and engaged global citizens, the portions of the curriculum that debunk the grand European narrative that civilization is a European phenomenon gifted to benighted peoples through trade, evangelism, and the “White Man’s Burden” are essential. Students need to engage with alternate and hypothetical historical trajectories, to discuss the implications and vulnerabilities of pre-Columbian and pre-imperial civilizations of the Americas and of Africa, to examine the Rome-Han connection, and to trace patterns in the early invasion cycles in India and the Middle East in order to comprehend more deeply the Europeanization that follows. While World and Euro curricula after 1450 may have different regional focus points, they demonstrate similar themes: by a stroke of good fortune, Europeans developed the traits and technologies that were essential to subjugate foreign peoples and to build global hegemonic and territorial empires. In this narrative, China is weak, Islam is adversarial, the New World and Africa are virgin continents, and Asia is the land upon which Europeans “Orientalize,” fantasize, compete, conquer, and manage. It’s not essential in this narrative that students know why European culture was so abrasive to other regional cultures or how European philosophies were informed by classical Asian and Middle Eastern philosophies. To make Europe the hero of global history (as 1450-1939 suggests) is to clear the stage of alternative heroes and to make villains and victims of the rest of humanity.
Finally, given the weak knowledge base that our students have of the social sciences in this STEM-oriented culture, particularly in schools like ours for talented and dedicated students, I worry that this change will whitewash the history curricula irrevocably. Other curricula and state standards (not to mention textbook companies and school networks) look up to the College Board, which remains the premiere producer of college curricula at the secondary education level, and a history of the world from 1450-present undermines cultures and histories of so much of the world by erasing their golden ages and classical/medieval achievements, interactions, and foundations. If we are to understand one another across racial, gender, and religious lines today and to make sense of geopolitical and cultural configurations (past, present, and prospective), it’s essential that our youth (and our AP-motivated youth in particular) return to the fundamentals—big geography, the diffusion of humanity out of Africa, how cultures have adopted traits of those whom they conquered and adapted to their natural and man-made environments, and recognize that Islam and Buddhism (among other cultures) are not monolithic and why and where their fissures sprang. Without this knowledge, we are doomed to live in our filter bubbles that dictate whose culture and land is worth knowing, being assessed, and utilized at the college level and in our academic (and vernacular) discourse. Don’t contribute to the narrow-mindedness of so many of our youth today; make the College Board an institution predicated on intellectual curiosity and dedicated to training our students to speak, write, research, and present many different narratives and arguments.
I look forward to continuing to teach AP courses, to advise our new AP faculty, and to participating in any future conversations on the topic of AP History reform.
BASIS Independent Silicon Valley