Are Advanced Placement Courses Diminishing Liberal Arts Education?

Date September 5, 2008

The other day I received this article from a colleague that was rather irksome in many ways, albeit it did make me think.

As an instructor in both highschool and college, I know how pedagogically inexperienced many (NOT
ALL) of my colleagues are at the colleges, but on the other hand I know how content weak some of my colleagues are here. The difference for me is that the high schools are a tighter community (many colleges have over 1,000 adjuncts!). We, who are stronger in content, can go to those teachers who may have a fantastic rapport with kids and can do the effective dog and pony show (I mean that positively here) and help them infuse that with content. A colleague mentioned the depth of curriculum, and we’re aware of the various points of view on things like History. How do we cover it all? Who knows, but I do know those of us who teach at the college too, see both sides of these things and do stay more on the cutting edge (I am Not trying to make myself look cool here, but bear with me…). I spend my time reading the current research (got a book the other day on Digital Natives that was published the day I bought it), I blog about it, I talk about it, I present 4-6 times a year outside of CUSD, I have two articles being published this month, BUT this isn’t about me. I am not out there trying to further myself and then drag the kids along. In one world I like making sure the kids know what I do, not because I am all about ME, but because it shows them what THEY CAN DO. Why do I work hard? I don’t know. In a perfect world we would, as high school educators, have time & resources to do it ALL, BUT
we don’t. And frankly many of us don’t want to. Even the good ones. We want to be with our families and we don’t want to do work for which we’re not paid, albeit some of continue to press forward for the mere love of learning.

I’ve got a friend and colleague who teaches AP Lit and South HS in PHX, and she doesn’t bother with the AP test. What she does is teach the kids to be strong, effective citizens who strive for communicative
intelligence. She infuses the literature of the class with real world, current MEANING. Instead of teaching to the test, she teaches them about life, and through the strategies she uses, the students learn HOW to test. Instead of teaching to the test, and yes, we DO teach to the test, and perhaps when we’re all sitting here having this discussion in another 25 years (she’s been at South since God was a boy) then maybe we too can teach that way.

And what about CIVICS? I took is Freshman year in 1989 (my history teacher friend’s favorite year!), and we don’t teach that class anymore, and frankly, the reason depends on your political inclinations, which is not for here, but might be for there. I took that class Freshman year, then World History in
10th (there was an AP European option!), then AP US Hist, and Gov’t in 12th. Where’s all of this going? I don’t know, but the political & sociological shifts in the USA directly correlates to programs that are
funded and programs that are cut. Now what do we do?

We find MEANING. The kids don’t hate the content. They do not hate reading about the world’s canonized protagonists, they don’t hate learning about Washington’s involvement in the French & Indian War along side Braddock and how that experience directly correlated to his successes in the Revolution. What they hate is busy work. They hate work that doesn’t have meaning. They want work to mean something. Why do we study this they ask? Why do we study that? If YOU can’t answer that, then you need to sit down and think about it (I DO ALL of the time).