This year the College Board in the United States revised the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. history course in order to imitate the process a historian goes through to explore the past. This is why insightful analysis of documents is required, as well as research and critical thinking, which will culminate in a three-hour and 15-minute exam to be held in May.
Heavily influenced by courses taken in universities, it is much more rigorous than previous AP offerings, to say the least. Many American schools have decided that such a demanding course is far more challenging to their teachers and students, and have decided to wait on the outcome. Others, influenced by conservative school boards, suggest that the emphasis on analytical thinking will lead students to be critical of their governments, and this is unacceptable in their districts. However, in states such as New York and Rhode Island, many scholars are enthusiastically taking the challenge.
At the American School of Guadalajara, the interest in the courses is exceptional. Last year, the U.S. history course had 15 brilliant students enrolled. This year, the number has grown to an astonishing 38, a record in overseas schools. High School Principal Gabriel Lemmon comments: “We have been encouraging students to take APs. I like the philosophy we have now, if a student is interested and show some dedication ... we say go for it. They have developed a community of support that is inspirational. They have taken support and collaboration to whole other levels, and it’s beautiful to watch. It’s a model for the school, it’s a model for Latin America and I think we can [with this class] see the power of community as one vital instrument for making student learning improve.”
He adds: “In the past you could get away with your football coach teaching the history course. Now, you need someone who is a good writing teacher and who also has in-depth knowledge of the subject. We are fortunate to have Michael Hogan come out of retirement to teach this course. Not only does he have a doctorate in history, but he is a talented writer and a popular teacher.”
The American School has two teachers with doctorates in the Social Studies Department. The other is Ross Freshwater, with a Harvard degree, and an 80-percent pass rate average for his course in AP World History (the global pass rate for this course is 52 percent). Francisco Aguirre, an American School junior, says: “What makes these Advanced Placement courses special is the fact that we are all self-selected. The courses are optional, not required. However, if we score high on the external exams, we become attractive candidates for admission to U.S. colleges, and may even receive university credits.”
According to the College Board, the AP U.S. History course is designed to be the equivalent of a two-semester introductory college or university U.S. history course. It is endorsed by the Association of American Historians, the National Council of Teachers of Social Studies, and the American Historical Association. Students who complete the course and pass the external exams are considered for advanced standing and/or university credits at over 4,000 universities in the United States and in 60 other countries around the world. But most definitely, the greatest advantage of the course is learning how to think critically and develop discipline.