I Just Dropped an AP US History Class. And You Should, Too.
Let’s set something straight: I’m your typical Straight-A, AP Class-Taking, Hyper-Overachieving student. I love learning about history, or the process and causes-and-effects that got us to where we are. I don’t like memorizing meaningless dates and dry, sterile facts that go along with that. I don’t like cramming for a test only to be able to spew the information back up for about three hours, when it’s lost forever in the process of cramming for the next test. And I really don’t like assignments created for the sole purpose of boosting a student’s grade or pointless GPA-enhancing AP classes.
Where My Hatred for AP Began
The College Board is nothing short of Capitalism at its finest creating a monopoly within the public school system. The classes are – theoretically – life-altering, hands-on, overall super awesome classes. And they can be, with the right teacher for the right class. What typically ends up happening, however, is that the teacher (knowing the difficulty of the AP test) will spend copious amounts of time preparing students to take the exam at the end of the year, in hopes of a 4 or 5 on the AP test, which is designed to be near-impossible to obtain. However, the classes are harder than typical classes, and many students’ GPAs lower due to the heavy workload and busy schedule (the kids who take AP classes are conveniently also the ones who, more often than not, are involved in band, choir, and 37 other extracurricular activities in hopes of looking more attractive to colleges). This means that students have a higher chance of lowering their GPAs at a high risk of getting the college credit kinda-sorta earned-ish. Most colleges offer scholarship matrices, allowing students with a high-enough ACT or SAT score (both of which are bogus, but that’s a topic for another day) and Grade Point Average. Students with a GPA that drops due to an attempt to get a cheaper college credit (saving perhaps $1,000) end up losing (nearly in my case) over $40,000 in potential scholarships. For fear of ranting even more, I’ll leave the rest of this paragraph to your imagination.
Classes Should Challenge Minds – Not Schedules.
I love challenging classes – the kind that makes you think, dig deeper into concepts, and really stretch your intellectual capabilities. Most students will agree that the best class they ever took wasn’t the easy class with the slacker teacher who graded solely on participation (yes, teachers are overworked and underpaid, so kudos to the slackers; at least they’re there); it was the most-feared class of their scholarly career, be it calculus, Spanish, physics, or any other class traditionally regarded as “too hard” or “I’ll just take economics instead”. But these classes don’t need to take up hours upon days outside of the classroom. An anecdote:
For the past two trimesters (basically 3 semesters and another awful system which I’ll discuss on a later day), I have taken two AP classes: US History and Language and Composition. In history, we were assigned a 50-page Civil War Reconstruction in which we were told specifically to copy and paste our facts from various places on the internet. This project was due after a week, and work was to be done primarily at home. How many ways can you say busywork (and a waste of $6 of my hard-earned money to print and bind the “AP-level” monolith). I hadn’t read half of the content in the assignment, I didn’t learn anything from creating it (except a couple of cool hacks in Microsoft Word, again, for a different day), and I still know far less than I should about arguably the most important war in America’s history. The project caused me to warp and finagle my schedule the entire week so I could work on it, and by the end, I was stressed, exhausted, and sleep-deprived. And I still learned nothing. The best part? When we turned in the project, my teacher opened the front cover, looked over my title page, and wrote 500/500 on the top before giving it back to me. Forty hours of blood, sweat, and tears had led to a participation grade, one of the worst concepts I’ve seen. Then, we took our “super-difficult” Civil War Exam, on which we were able to use our project, the textbook, and the internet. The saddest part of the story: my teacher copied every single test off of Quizlet, meaning all the answers were publicly available (and in the right order). One class period later, the entire class had 100% on the “hardest test of the year”. That was our unit on the Civil War.
Wasting most of a student’s life outside of class to do menial work is cruel and unusual, a phrase I don’t use lightly and don’t expect you to take lightly. Granted, this was an issue with a specific teacher, but I’ve had similar assignments in nearly every “high-level” class I’ve ever taken, high-level loosely interpreted as “busier busywork and stricter grading but no child will manage to get ahead in this sort of learning environment”. Apologies, but I digress.
Inspire Students to Learn, Not to Pass
Dozens of my past teachers have held grades over students’ heads as a way to make sure their busywork is actually being completed. This only serves to instill a hatred of the topic-at-hand deep within a student. I can’t stand reading fiction because “there will be a test over chapter 4 on Friday”, I despise history classes because “remember this date, it’ll be on a quiz”, and I (a bona-fide mathlete) have even grumbled at the thought of “problems 1-94 will be due at the first of class tomorrow”. This is only exaggerated in AP Classes. I can’t stand analyzing writing anymore because “the AP Test is coming up, so we’ll just spend the next 3 months taking practice tests”, and I can’t tolerate the idea of bias thanks to studying for the AP US History Test.
Anyways, I’ve wanted to post more and haven’t really gotten to it. Ah, well. I’ll be posting some more soon.