Jonathan Zimmerman, a history of education professor at New York University, believes that there is a larger problem lurking behind Oklahoma’s rejection of the Advanced Placement United States History course. How can we expect high school history courses to teach students historical thinking skills when most of our college and university professors are not doing it.
Here is a taste of Zimmerman’s piece at The New Republic:
In a recent survey of 23,000 undergraduates at 24 varied institutions, half of the students said they were not taking a single course requiring a total of 20 pages of writing. In a field like history, especially, it’s hard to imagine how you could acquire real disciplinary skills if you’re not writing on a regular basis.
Most of all, it’s hard to see how our A.P. history teachers will instruct those skills if our colleges don’t. A growing number of states now require future teachers to major in the subject they teach, which is exactly as it should be. But that won’t do much good if these people aren’t encountering good models of the pedagogy they’re supposed to provide when they enter the profession.
Advanced Placement, born over a half-century ago in an effort to cultivate a narrow intellectual elite, now caters to a wide swath of American students. Thirty-three percent of public high school graduates took at least one A.P. exam in 2013, up from 18.9 percent just 10 years earlier.
This increase in test-taking would be fine—indeed, it would be fantastic—if we could give these kids the tools they need to succeed in college. But we can’t do that until the colleges teach those skills, too. Contrary to what you might have heard on Fox News, the new A.P. history exam isn’t a vast left-wing conspiracy to turn our kids against America. It’s a good-faith effort to bring high school teaching in line with what our colleges are supposed to be doing, but don’t do nearly enough.