Dear Trevor Packer,
THE COLLEGE BOARD HAS IT BACKWARDS. THE PROBLEM IS NOT TO REDUCE THE YEAR-LONG WORLD HISTORY ADVANCED PLACEMENT COURSE TO THE EQUIVALENT OF ONE COURSE OF COLLEGE CREDIT. THE PROBLEM IS TO HAVE THE COLLEGES RECOGNIZE THAT THE YEAR-LONG WHAP COURSE IS EQUIVALENT TO TWO COLLEGE LEVEL, SEMESTER-LONG, COURSES.
I have been traveling extensively and learned of the College Board decision only two or three days ago. By now, however, I have read through the materials posted on H-World concerning the AP decision, and I have watched, via you tube, the video of your presentation of the decision and the responses of the teachers.
First, I was surprised that the decision was made solely by the College Board administration. In introducing your remarks at the AP reading, you were very careful to note that the academic test committee had no responsibility in the matter. You seemed to anticipate that the teachers would oppose the decision and you graciously took the committee out of the line of fire by taking full responsibility.
Second, your argument that teachers could add whatever additional materials they would like, however, seemed disingenuous, as many teachers pointed out. Students, and their parents, too, would ask: would this extra material not simply be extraneous? would it not blur the student's focused preparation for the exam? The teachers arguing for including more materials, because this was intellectually and pedagogically the right thing to do, would be hung out to dry.
Third, from the inception of the AP exam, and even before, high school teachers have been the leaders in creating a comprehensive, thoughtful, thematically-based, world history course, one that included all periods of human history and not just the most recent 568 years. I worked with a large program in the Philadelphia School District in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a program that predated WHAP by a decade. The teachers in Philadelphia were tasked with teaching a required world history course in ninth grade; they argued that they were glad to do it; the task was important; but they lacked the training to do it properly. Being handed a textbook and told to charge ahead was not adequate preparation. The teachers sought more training, and with the aid of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, administered through the Philadelphia Alliance for Teaching the Humanities in the Schools (PATHS), they received that training. The program was transformative for the participating teachers. We were part of a movement, not yet coordinated, that was beginning to emerge across the United States. Ross Dunn was leading similar efforts in California; Pat Manning at Northeastern University was moving in the same direction. Peter Sterns was doing similar programming at Carnegie Mellon. Jerry Bentley at Hawaii, always a leader in the field, was designing similar programs. There were probably other programs of which I am not aware or which I do not remember.
Following the four years of the Philadelphia program, several participants applied for and received funding from the NEH to help university faculty in the Philadelphia region train themselves and introduce more world history courses in local colleges so that future high school teachers would more automatically receive the training they needed. The NEH funding was for equal numbers of university faculty and high school teachers to work together, side-by-side. Our argument was that well-experienced high school teachers could inform the university faculty of what teachers needed to know. In the early years of the WHAP exam, the CB itself provided training to teachers of the course. In short, high schools and high school teachers led the advance guard in revising the world history curriculum in a continuum that led from the schools to the universities. The CB provided much-appreciated additional support.
Now, however, the CB, sounds the call of retreat. No wonder teachers are frustrated and feel betrayed; those are the emotions that I saw in the video of your presentation and the teachers' responses. That disappointment, frustration, and sense of betrayal also come through clearly in the multitude of statements that teachers have posted online.
Fourth, in your presentation you explained that the CB was trimming the sails of the high school teachers because the colleges would not give credit for two courses, even though the current AP course is in reality the equivalent of two college level courses -- ancient and modern world history. Because the colleges have lagged behind by giving credit for only one course, the high school teachers are told to throw in the towel and cut back their exemplary, hard-won, path-breaking achievements. That would be a huge step backward. On the contrary, the CB should demonstrate to the colleges that they ought to be granting credit for a two course sequence.
This makes perfect sense to me based on my experience. I have written a world history textbook at the college level, The World's History (Pearson, 5th edition, 2015). I use it in my college teaching of a year-long, two course sequence in ancient and modern history. Students who take only one semester of the course, either ancient or modern, get credit for one course; students taking both halves of the course get credit for two courses. It seems to me that if Temple University gives credits for two courses to my students using this text book from beginning to end, then students using it in high schools – and some do -- and taking an AP exam that covers the entire scope of the book, should also get credit for two courses. The same should be true for all of the many excellent world history texts that include ancient and modern periods and are used in a year-long, two course sequence at the college level. The CB should be demonstrating to the colleges that the year-long WHAP course is the equivalent of two semester-long courses of college work and should earn two courses of college credit. Let the CB once again boldly lead the charge rather than timidly and meekly sound the call of retreat.
Finally, I fully agree with the multitude of teachers who argued that the non-Western world would not be properly represented by a course that begins only in 1450. The problem, however, is even worse. The Western world, too, has deep historical roots that will be lost. A course that begins only in 1450 will leave students lacking in knowledge of the foundations of the Western world as well. No Greece, no Rome, no early urban settlements, no attempts at democratic politics, no early modern transformations. And, in global terms, no early empires, no foundations of the world’s major religions, no agricultural civilizations, no grappling with the biological evolution that has made us what we are, and what we are becoming. WHAP students are now taking the equivalent of a sequence of two college level courses; they ought to receive two courses of college credit; the College Board should be making the argument. If you have already tried, without success, try again!
Thank you for your attention.
Professor of History, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA; Shrenik Lalbhai Chair Professor, Ahmedabad University, India