Are You Smarter Than an 11th Grader?

Several states have voiced disapproval to the new reformed framework of Advanced Placement US History (APUSH) by the College Board. The accusation is that it puts American history in a negative light and highlights mistakes over achievements and consequently is unpatriotic. Media has painted this as American citizens asking to keep American history sugar coated, which quickly lit a fire in my Patriotic, history loving, educator soul.

Advanced Placement means you are in a college level course, which you voluntarily take if your grades meet the requirements; and it is not mandated the same way as regular high school courses. As a previous student of APUSH (with one of the best teacher’s ever), I can say that it did serve it’s purpose in helping me to think more critically and better understand the “why’s and how’s” of the simple overly stressed typical “American themes”. As an APUSH student, I was also very concerned about how well I could fare when it finally came time for the test that would determine if I received college credit or not. My motivation in this course was not to skip a class in college, for me that was an added perk. My motivation was to learn about the real history of my country so I can better understand the events that occur in my lifetime (yeah, I’m a nerd). American’s are constantly being criticized by how little they know of their own country.

The College Board argues that students who have gone through U.S. History throughout their education know the basics and the purpose of APUSH as it is a college level course is to think more critically about the decisions that have shaped our country. They also make the claim that these are not strict standards, but guidelines for teacher’s to follow and fill in the gaps as they see fit. As a teacher, I can definitely see the appeal to that! However, if you look at the framework for yourself, it does at first seem to be very explicit, especially if you consider the previous 6 page to the now 70 page document.

Just stop and think for a moment. The United States is almost 240 years old, and we have been through 44 presidents (a lot more presidential terms). I took this course in 2006. Almost 10 years later=10 years more history to learn. I don’t know about you but I was always dissatisfied that I never learned anything past the end of WWII because of time. It shows that my teachers tried to be thorough in the material up to that point, except that’s 70 more years of history I was not taught. Guess what, they were the most relevant years of history to my life today and I feel clueless. So is a more detailed framework really so bad?

That is a big question. Teachers should have the freedom of what and how to teach to make it most relevant for the students. Also important is using that material in context to really understand the how and why these events occurred. A framework structured too closely (especially by non-teachers) may be very difficult to accomplish in the classroom. (Just ask any elementary teacher). 240 years to be covered critically, in depth during one school year to where students can defend and give coherent examples on the AP exam at the end is a difficult task. Especially when the contents of the test are kept secret from the teachers. Great way to keep from teaching to the test, but that puts a lot of room for doubt when trying to pace your lessons.

A more detailed framework was likely necessary and called for by APUSH teachers. What we need to be aware of is the wording of the documents and what it implies in it’s teaching. Is it trying to paint US History in a certain way or is it simply addressing historical events for teachers and students to discuss?  Most importantly though, TRUST THE TEACHERS.  Trust the teachers who have dedicated their lives to molding the young minds, who teach a very complex subject, who themselves have a love for understanding history.

I came across an article at (A Connecticut newspaper), while it was an opinion article the author, Stanley Kurtz, made a valid point:

“The real issue is whether the curriculum will teach a dogmatic progressivism or introduce students to a variety of opinions about the individuals, ideas and institutions that shaped American history. Are we a country that models and defends liberty for the world, or should we be a humbler and more collaborative member of the family of nations? Shall we hold equality as a universal standard of right derived from nature or from God? Or are the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence merely cultural preferences whose universalization entails the domination of others?”

This is how we should be analyzing our curriculum. Whether it be history, literature, math, science or any subject we need to ask ourselves if it teaches to the political influences that shaped it or if it allows students learn to analyze and mold their own opinions.


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