250 Years Might Return to AP World History Course After Criticism

24 July, 2018

The College Board has answered criticism about proposed changes to the Advanced Placement World History exam. Educators and others had objected to its plans to make the exam cover history beginning in the year 1450. Now, the group says the exam material will cover history beginning about 250 years earlier.

The College Board announced the latest plan on its website last week. In the same announcement, the organization also proposed creating a new AP world history class, called AP World History: Ancient. That class would cover events from earlier than 1200 Common Era.

The College Board said it values the thoughtful comments from the teaching community about the first proposal. The Board said the reaction showed that it and educators share the same goals of "engaging students in the rich histories of civilizations" and making sure learning communities have enough time to cover such study.

FILE - Visitors walk near a section of the Great Wall of China, north of Beijing, October 28, 2006. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)
FILE - Visitors walk near a section of the Great Wall of China, north of Beijing, October 28, 2006. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Changing history

The College Board is a not-for-profit group that directs the AP program and AP exams in American high schools. Schools pay for use of College Board AP teaching materials, including tests. The material on AP exams influences what information is covered in AP classes.

The current AP World History class covers history from 10,000 years ago to the present.

In May, the College Board announced that it wanted to limit the amount of material covered in its AP exam. It said it was acting partly because of messages from teachers who said they could not cover all the exam material in one AP course.

The College Board also said that its AP history program should more closely copy college world history programs. They generally cover the subject in two to three separate courses.

However, the College Board's first proposal of starting with the year 1450 received wide criticism from the U.S. teaching community. Many felt such a change would give Western European history higher importance in the class over other cultures.

Mixed feelings

Reactions to the newest plan have been mixed.

Peter Stearns, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, is pleased.

"They're really trying to get a start date that avoids any impressions that somehow world history has been guided by the rise of the West."

Stearns added that starting in 1200 permits the AP exam to include material, "On all sorts of societies that are not affected by western influence at that point at all."

However, other educators are not so happy.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks is a history professor at the University of Wisconsin, and president of the World History Association. She sent a letter to Trevor Packer, head of College Board's AP program. Wiesner-Hanks wrote that changing the course to begin at year 1200 "will not address the foundational claims of world history as a field."

She also said that the speed in which these changes are being made is too fast. She said it does not provide enough time for thoughtful discussion on creating a new teaching program.

And that issue, "has been one of the major issues expressed by teachers," Wiesner-Hanks wrote in a separate e-mail to VOA.

Last month, the World History Association posted an open letter to the College Board online. The letter protested the changes. They called instead for an examination of the "density" of subjects covered.

Is a new class realistic?

Many educators are wondering if a whole new AP history class can be created. The College Board says on its website that to develop such a course, it would first need to confirm that colleges would be willing to give credit for an additional exam. And it said it would have to measure interest among high schools in offering two, separate AP world history courses.

GMU's Peter Stearns is not sure the idea is realistic.

"Where I'm concerned more is I don't think lots of high school have the resources or interest level to try and do two different AP World History courses..."

He argues high schools are more interested in STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

Wiesner-Hanks agrees, saying she fears only the wealthier schools will be able to offer two separate AP World History courses.

I'm Caty Weaver.

And I'm Phil Dierking.

Phil Dierking reported this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Do you think high schools should teach history from before the year 1200 Common Era? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

course - n. a series of classes about a particular subject in a school

engage - v. to get and keep (someone's attention, interest, etc.)

impression - n. the effect or influence that something or someone has on a person's thoughts or feelings

society - n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values

foundation - n. something (such as an idea, a principle, or a fact) that provides support for something