Mike Macijeski, M.A.
AP World History teacher,
National Merit Scholar
Northfield Middle High School
June 10, 2018
RE: Proposed 2019-20 changes to AP World History
Dear Mr. Packer,
Thank you for taking a few moments to consider my thoughts on the proposed changes to the AP World History course. I have been teaching it since 2003-04, its third year of existence, and cherish many fond memories of AP Readings beginning in 2006 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Being a part of this marvelous course and of the teaching and learning community it has nurtured has been a major highlight of my teaching career, which is drawing to a close. I plan to retire in June 2019.
May I first acknowledge the incredible complexity I’m sure such decisions entail? Balancing the needs of colleges and high schools with keeping the AP program competitive with IB and the growing dual enrollment option many students have must be truly daunting. However, I deeply fear the announced changes will be counterproductive and may well kill a course that has been beloved and life-changing for thousands of teachers and students.
My concerns echo those Ross Dunn expressed in his recent letter. Despite concerns about overwhelming content, there is great value in considering the grand sweep of human history as a whole in a single course. I remember the words of another pioneer in teaching all of world history, Dr. Jerry Bentley, whose textbook I continue to use. In his speech at professional night in Colorado Springs, Jerry boiled his rationale for a course covering all of human history down to three words: perspective, tolerance, and wisdom. I share those three words with my students at the beginning of the course each year.
Dr. Bentley, who sadly passed a few years ago, did not oppose more focused history courses to examine particular times or places in greater depth; rather, he argued that a course that truly encompassed all of the human story had special merit and value that offered lessons unavailable in a more restricted study. AP World History has been that course at the high school level. As many students and teachers who have experienced AP World are testifying, exposure to the full range of humanity’s achievements and disasters carries a depth and a weight that provide the truly global perspective our world needs today more than ever.
When I retire in a year, I face the dilemma of whether or not to recommend my school keep AP World History as part of its curriculum. I have long cherished the hope of keeping the program alive by helping pass it along to a capable successor. Our little school with its enrollment of around 300 cannot possibly add a Pre-AP course. We are lucky to offer the half-dozen AP courses we now have with our small but dedicated faculty. I have managed to withstand suggestions to abandon AP World to make scheduling simpler. But if the proposed course changes go forward and the course begins in 1450, I’m not sure I can recommend we keep it; our school might be better served by a course that continues to offer the full sweep of world history, even if we must create it ourselves.
It has been my honor and privilege to unfold the great tale of humanity for my students these past fifteen years. Our little central Vermont town is overwhelmingly white, with a distinct “town and gown” feel thanks to Norwich University down the street. However, not all my students are the children of professors—many are from the “wrong side of the tracks,” not unlike myself. I benefitted from a great education provided in part by the opportunity given me as a National Merit Scholar. It helped me become the first in my family to attend college. I have staunchly defended the AP program over the years because of the doors it can open for others like me. Throughout the time I have offered AP World History, the course has been open to any student willing to attempt it, regardless of their potential score on the exam. Seeing their eyes, minds, and hearts open to a bigger world has been one of this old teacher’s greatest joys.
I am confident my sentiments echo those of thousands of my colleagues who have been teaching AP World History when I say this course has truly been something special. For me, it has never been about the trivia in which such a broad curriculum runs the risk of being trapped—quite the opposite: AP World History, with its full global and historical sweep, has given me and my students license to follow history’s grandest themes wherever they may lead. The chance to compare across all time periods and cultures offers an unparalleled opportunity for students to acquire the perspective, tolerance, and wisdom I heard Jerry Bentley commend. It has been both challenging and rich. I pray that as you consider how best to move forward, you can find a way to preserve the essence of this course, which has meant so much to so many. I fear that if it is allowed to die, it may be a while before we see its like again.
Michael V. Macijeski