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A Real Path Forward for AP World History

A Real Path Forward for AP World History

After a recent period of deep concern, there’s some (pretty) good news for those involved with AP World History: a real chance for constructive compromise Is emerging.

Over the weekend, I had written a blog designed to join many others in expressing disapproval of the proposed change in the chronology of the AP course, cutting it back drastically to begin at 1450. The blog recalled the goals of the initial committee that proposed the course, which I had the honor to chair: We wanted to be certain that this was real world history, and not warmed over Western civ; we aimed at a chronology that would promote appropriate attention to societies in various parts of the world and to contact patterns that preceded globalization (though we did not use that term back then); and we wanted to make sure the course was feasible in a high school (often 10th grade) year. These goals, I think, are still valid, and they argue strongly against a start date of 1450, so that students see the nature of societies that defined crucial features before interaction with the West became an issue, and understand how successful many of these societies have been. It is vital to dive in before the “rise of the West” even threatens to command attention.

But it is also true that, over time, the course has become more complicated chronologically, and I have worried for some time that the amendments were overdoing the specifics – out of the best of coverage intentions. Further, as the revisionists note, many colleges start their courses at 1450, and AP students have struggled to retain much about some of the key early periods in the present structure – and their teachers with them.

Happily, as the College Board has begun to respond to the concerns expressed, a real way forward emerges. It does involve concessions, and some recognition that the current structure is in fact unmanageable. But it clearly avoids the many pitfalls of starting the course with the early modern period.

Currently, the test committee is working to pare back some of the proposed coverage from 1450 onward, to make room for a real unit on key developments in the centuries before 1450 – the nature of exchanges, the major societies and cultures that flourished in what is now called “period 3”. They recognize, in other words, the validity of the downsides to the 1450 start date; and they never intended a hymn to the West in the first place.

Again, some of my colleagues will remain disappointed. The inability to do much with the classical period or the implications of the rise of agriculture is a limitation: but clearly we can’t have everything, and some concessions to feasibility and organizational reality strikes me as essential.

The College Board is also sincere in its hopes to encourage a prior high school course that would deal with earlier developments (something that already exists in some places) – thus committing two years to world history, with AP as the second component. I have some skepticism about the success of this thrust, at a time when school districts are hardly falling over themselves to add history – but it is worth a try, and the intent in genuine.

So: we have a situation (as with AP US History a few years back) in which a proposed change seems to have gone too far, objections arise and – happily – the authorities respond with constructive flexibility. In my judgment this opportunity for adjustment clearly warrants some patience on the part of all concerned, and some willingness not to throw baby out with bath.

And there is one other point: as those most concerned keep track of what the committee ultimately proposes, we can also discuss some efforts, logically through the WHA, to work on those many colleges that begin their courses in 1450 – there’s some real need for change here as well, and we may have been remiss in neglecting the issue.

We can press for improvements, if not perfection, in several directions.