This conversation is nearly a year in the making, from the first messages with my guest back in 2022 - which also happened to be the last of my 9 years teaching AP European History. That year there were over 4.7 million AP Exams taken by 2.6 million students from 23,000 secondary schools. At about $100 per exam…well, you don’t need to get a 5 on the AP Calc exam to finish that equation. And…here we are again, another high-stakes time of the academic year for yet millions more high schoolers seeking college credit from the College Board.
From AP to SAT, the College Board is a billion dollar educational gatekeeper that plays an outsized role in American education in policy and practice, K12 and beyond. In fact, as my guest today outlines in her book, many states have passed laws requiring the College Board play exactly that role: mandating that schools offer a minimum number of AP courses (that require AP trained teachers), offering cash incentives for student test scores, & dictating to universities what scores they will be required to accept for which credits.
Even more recent partisan challenges to curriculum, like the rejection of AP African-American History by the Florida Dept of Education, should also cause us to reflect on the homogenizing and controlling influence of what has become a de facto national curriculum, AND the metrics we use to evaluate success, AND the ways we assess & award credit, AND the philosophies & pedagogies we use in classrooms with students. Somewhere in the recent past, figure & ground inverted, and we not only lost track of what was important - the best intentions of what courses like these could represent - but along the way we ceded a lot of power to a single company and a single brand - Advanced Placement - to determine our educational goals, values, & practices from the top down.
Annie Abrams holds a doctorate in American literature from NYU and is currently on childcare leave from her job as a public high school English teacher. She writes in the introduction to her brand new book Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students.
0:00:00.0 Annie Abrams: There are ways, of course, that the worm was in the apple from the start. The pride and exclusion, initially, was dangerous and what we're seeing now is that the College Board saying, "Okay, so we won't be exclusive," but the trade-off, I don't think, should have to be compromising the degree of freedom and autonomy and collaboration that the program initially represented. So could it have ever fulfilled its promise? It didn't.
0:00:32.5 Nick Covington: Hello, and welcome to Episode 130 of our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Nick Covington. As with all of our content, this episode is brought to you by our supporters, three of whom are Monique Schramme, Paul Kim, and Randy Ziegenfuss. Thank you so much for your ongoing support. You can learn more about us and our work at humanrestorationproject.org.
0:00:58.6 NC: This conversation is nearly a year in the making from the first messages with my guest back in 2022, which also happened to be the last of my nine years teaching AP European History. That year, there were over 4.7 million AP exams taken by 2.6 million students from 23,000 secondary schools. At about $100 per exam, well, you don't need to get a five on the AP Calc exam to finish that equation. And here we are again, another high stakes time of the academic year for yet millions more high schoolers seeking college credit from the College Board. From AP to SAT, the College Board is a billion dollar educational gatekeeper that plays an outsized role in American education, in policy and practice, K-12 and beyond.
0:01:46.7 NC: In fact, as my guest today outlines in her book, many states have passed laws requiring the College Board play exactly that role, mandating that schools offer a minimum number of AP courses that require AP trained teachers, offering cash incentives for student test scores and dictating to universities what scores they will be required to accept for which credits. Even more recent partisan challenges to curriculum like the rejection of AP African-American studies by the Florida Department of Education should also cause us to reflect on the homogenizing and controlling influence of what has become a de facto national curriculum, and the metrics we use to evaluate success, and the ways we assess and award credit, and the philosophies and pedagogies we use in classrooms with students.
0:02:37.5 NC: Somewhere in the recent past, figure and ground inverted and we not only lost track of what was important, the best intentions of what courses like these could represent, but along the way, we ceded a lot of power to a single company and a single brand, Advanced Placement, to determine our educational goals, values and practices from the top down.
0:03:01.3 NC: My guest today is Annie Abrams. Annie holds a Doctorate in American Literature from NYU and is currently on childcare leave from her job as a public high school English teacher. She writes in the introduction to her brand new book, "Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students," "The College Board is closing in on ownership of a national curriculum that holds not only high schools, but also universities to the company's academic standards and its philosophy of education." Concluding quote, "The College Board's approach to education is anti-democratic." Thank you so much for joining me today, Annie. I'm so glad we finally get to do this.
0:03:40.4 AA: I'm so excited. Thanks for having me.
0:03:42.5 NC: Before we get into the important background and history of the debate, both internal and external, about what AP could or should look like, it's a program that's ubiquitous in American high schools to the point of being as commonplace and non-controversial as say, whiteboards or the color guard in the practice of American schooling. And as I mentioned in the intro, 2.6 million students took AP exams last year. Yet, the subtitle of your book is, "How Advanced Placement Cheats Students." That's bound to come as a shock to many parents and teachers, although, I think students are a bit more open to the suggestion. So what's the fundamental premise? Why should we bother to be critical of Advanced Placement or the College Board, more broadly?
0:04:27.2 AA: Especially over the past two decades, the College Board's amassed a lot of power in terms of both money and in terms of the ways we think about school and college. So in February, with the AP African-American Studies fiasco, it became clear to a lot of people why we can't trust the company to make decisions about curriculum, but then also, I think, there's a mechanical kind of testing at the core of the way AP curriculum is structured and the way that the College Board profits from the program. And I don't think that we should think of those elements as part of some natural order.
0:05:08.8 AA: It is ubiquitous, it's been around for decades, but what is it, really? I think it's really important to have an active conversation about that instead of just accepting it and I can't think of a single institution that has more influence on student perception of liberal education. It seems like we should be discussing it instead of just accepting it.
0:05:32.5 NC: The book opens with a present-day student experience of AP exams and really, like AP culture as it has emerged over the years. I really found myself identifying with that and it represents a lot of those aspects that you just mentioned. And perhaps before we go back to the 20th century story of the College Board AP and its goals and ideals, let's talk about you and your interest here. What experiences and interests led you to start pulling on that thread that became shortchanged in the first place?
0:06:06.6 AA: I will say that the introduction is student-approved. [chuckle] So there's that.
0:06:12.2 NC: It tracks, it tracks. It really does.
0:06:15.4 AA: Yeah.
0:06:15.9 NC: I started to get flashbacks.
0:06:16.9 AA: Yeah, I tried. So I started teaching high school right after finishing my PhD. There are very few jobs in college Humanities departments and I didn't want to spend time taking a string of temporary positions that might lead nowhere. So I took a job that had benefits and a salary. And I love teaching, right? Why should it matter so much what kind of institution it is? But it seemed to me that there are some really stark differences between teaching college and teaching AP and at the time that I started teaching AP, the College Board was also actively starting to make changes to the program that made it even less like college while the New York City Department of Education was championing its expansion through "AP for All."
0:07:06.9 AA: So I started to wonder what the program was designed to do originally as it became clear that it was morphing into something else. So I found the Blackmer report online, "General Education in School and College," and I ordered it for something like five bucks. It's easy to imagine the people on the other end pulling it off a shelf, blowing the dust off, and saying, "We sold it!" I guess, another way to put it is that I wanted to understand by what authority this program was shaping my work.
0:07:38.2 NC: Now, I think we'll get into the AP for All, here in a little bit. We'll get there shortly 'cause I think that's an important component in this too, but the story that you talk about in the book, the story of the College Board and by extension the AP Program, is the subject of, really, the first half of the book, which I was not expecting at all, frankly. But you introduced a whole cast of characters, institutions, committees, that played a really pivotal role in shaping what AP became. So there's Harvard President, James Conant, there's John Dewey, there's even earlier voices from Thomas Jefferson, WEB Du Bois, and you bring them all in dialogue with one another. So what I found is that it's really a story of exploring the purpose, function and structure of public education and higher education in America, particularly, over the course of what becomes known as the American century and it truly is a gripping history. So why was that history so important for you to make your case in your criticism of AP in its current form?
0:08:43.8 AA: Yeah, thanks. That's generous of you. There are a few things. So first of all, I'm far from the first person to criticize AP. Even during its founding, there are letters with the program's architects, from professors and teachers, warning that testing would distort liberal education. When McGeorge Bundy worked to secure advanced standing at Harvard, a professor there complained that time off for good behavior was a strange way to think about liberal education.
0:09:15.6 AA: I just read another piece in the Atlantic from 2012, Justice Coleman was on the assent that warned that AP was a scam even 11 years ago. But over the past decade, especially, I think that branding and nostalgia have informed the way that a lot of people, a lot of parents, students, educators think about AP. And to my mind, history is a counter to those kinds of storytelling. So another way to put it is that I wanted to humanize the College Board's influence. It's a matter of individual actors and agents making decisions. It's not a thing that's set in stone.
0:09:58.6 NC: And even you make this clear when you bring these characters, these historical characters, into conversation with each other that there's a lot of tension about the shape that the program should play, the introduction of new technologies and ways of thinking in terms of psychometrics and psychology and assessment and measuring and then butting those things up against those ideals, of course, from these white guys and these elite institutions about what this liberal education, this humanizing education, should look like. And so I wonder, too, where in that history does that program fall short of its intentions or could it have ever fulfilled that promise or was it in some ways destined for the kind of criticism that you laid out in the book?
0:10:47.0 AA: I mean, there are ways, of course, that the worm was in the apple from the start. The pride and exclusion, initially, was dangerous. And what we're seeing now is that the College Board saying, "Okay, so we won't be exclusive," but the trade-off, I don't think, should have to be compromising the degree of freedom and autonomy and collaboration that the program initially represented. So could it have ever fulfilled its promise? It didn't. [chuckle] So I don't know. Right?
0:11:24.6 NC: Yeah. [laughter] It's kind of self-fulfilling, I guess. Isn't it?
0:11:28.0 AA: [chuckle] Yeah.
0:11:28.1 NC: Yeah. Let's fold in the AP for All into this part of the conversation then. So describe that program for people, or that policy, I suppose, for people who would not be in New York State or part of New York City schools. What was the promise of AP for All and what's the catch?
0:11:47.9 AA: So de Blasio... This was pre-pandemic de Blasio, just pre-pandemic. De Blasio promised that all students in New York City public schools would have access to five AP courses and there was a lot of celebration. The idea was like, we're finally leveling the playing field. And who would question that, right?
0:12:08.2 NC: Yeah.
0:12:08.4 AA: Sounds great, right? The problem is when you start to ask questions about the substance and when you start to ask questions about the definition of equity. So AP is... It's not just about liberal education. Right from the start, it was also part of this vision for meritocracy that relied on standardized testing to ensure fairness, which again, sounds potentially great, but the way that the program is structured now means that students in schools, in wealthy private schools, many of them don't offer AP anymore. Many elite private colleges don't grant credit for AP anymore. And so the question then becomes, why are New York City public schools relying on this mechanism for promoting equity when there are potentially others? Why make this choice instead of, for instance, empowering communities to make decisions about curriculum?
0:13:17.8 NC: And that's what I was gonna ask is what is then... You mentioned in the book what institutions of higher education are doing in lieu of accepting AP US History credits or AP Government credits or any of those other things and, frankly, those courses sound fascinating. How do we change the trajectory to imagine the equity conversation is about providing access to this narrowed mechanical perspective of equity as, I don't know, of standardization? Equity as AP instead of equity as access to quality educational environments.
0:14:00.0 AA: One thing that became clear to me as I was researching is that the notion of a diverse range of courses, it's not a radical idea. These are Cold War centrists at the core of AP and they were very skeptical of standardized curriculum. And part of the reason that they were skeptical is because they understood themselves as authority figures. They were like, "No. No, we know what to do. We wouldn't want someone else telling us." And so who gets to enjoy that kind of autonomy, I think, is another way to think about equity and in terms of student experience like which students get to interact with an impassioned teacher is another way to think about equity. Who gets a teacher who has the time to respond in detail to students' thoughts, who takes students' thoughts seriously, right?
0:14:56.4 AA: That's another way to think about equity and that's the kind of quality of education that these Cold War centrists advocated for. So thinking about the resources it would require to provide that at scale, that's, I guess, the progressive element, but the definition of education... I'm not sure, actually, that there's something... It's weird to me, I guess, what I'm saying. It's weird to me that that definition of education isn't centered, that that's not the default anymore.
0:15:31.0 NC: And it's almost like AP is the path of least resistance in that equity conversation. It's not about making quality higher education more accessible and affordable and for people without the means to, otherwise, attend quality institutions. The default just seems to be, hey, this private company has produced this canned curriculum and that can become the pathway for us to bring equity into the curriculum without those prerequisites that you had mentioned, which would be highly-trained, motivated, interested, experienced educators because that would also entail paying quality, trained, experienced, impassioned educators to do that work, to design exciting and interesting and relevant and challenging curricula instead of using it as a means to an end to acquire these credits and credentials that may or may not transfer to those institutions of higher education that kids can go to anyway.
0:16:35.0 NC: There's so much tension in that. I don't think there's any clean answers. I will speak very briefly to my students' experience of this, which was really interesting back in the mid-20 teens. It used to be the case that AP Euro, kind of perceived as one of the more difficult of the AP Humanities courses, but a three would get you credit at the Iowa universities and many other big state schools too, but it was to my students' frustration that they had gotten their three, I don't know, in 2013 or so, and then by the time they graduated in 2015, the University of Iowa and the other institutions had actually increased what they would accept for those credits to transfer.
0:17:19.6 NC: So there was just a ticking time bomb on them not being able to transfer those credits over and I caught a lot of grief from some of those graduating seniors who said, "I worked my butt off to get this three and it's not even gonna transfer to Iowa." And I was like, "I'm sorry. I have no control over this," but there's so much of that tension about like, "Hey, I did all that work, I got nothing out of it," and here I am going like, "Oh, hey. You got a real learning experience and it was great to get to know you and have this time together." And all of that sort of devalued in the context of test scores and credit transfers, I suppose.
0:17:56.1 AA: Right, I think it's one way to think about the value of a year spent together, right?
0:18:02.2 NC: Yeah.
0:18:03.1 AA: It's not the only way.
0:18:04.3 NC: Let's talk a little bit about the transition that you had come in to when you said you had started teaching AP under the burgeoning David Coleman regime. That was... I started teaching AP in 2013. So it would have been kind of in the first year of his supervision of the program. So what are the features of the College Board and the AP Program in that current form that distort the promise or where has it gone, particularly, off the rails in the last 10 years or 11 years, in your estimation?
0:18:37.0 AA: Can I also just say, like, to your last point, also, the thing about the college board and its marketing and the reason that I think a lot of teachers are really sympathetic to the college board is that we have to do something, right? Like the problems the college board identifies are real, right? There is inequity in education who has access to college credits. It's uneven, right? Who has access to high quality curriculum, that's uneven. We have to do something and AP is something, it's there. But just because AP is something and we have to do something doesn't mean that we have to do this, right? That's also what the history kind of unsettles. If you think of it in terms of agents and actors making decisions, then it becomes clear that other decisions are also possible, should be possible. Why aren't they possible? That's a big question, right?
0:19:33.0 NC: To add to that real quick, and what other solutions does AP fill that gap and then preclude the solutions elsewhere? That's the other half of it is when we choose the route for AP as the solution, what aren't we... What aren't we doing in the grand scheme of things to resolve it in the long run, other than become more invested in the AP architecture and the college boards framework, that kind of seems like any big corporation has seemed to become more vertically integrated as time progresses.
0:20:08.0 AA: That's right. Coleman, he seems to like linear paths. A lot of the company's marketing materials celebrate clearing the path to college and/or career. But to my mind, some of what's valuable about liberal education in high school or in college is getting lost in complicated ideas and finding your way out of that confusion through research, writing, conversation, these really kind of messy experiences. So when curriculum is overly prescriptive, as I would argue, it's becoming and has become, especially over the past five years, and when rubrics become checklists, students lose some freedom in developing expansive thoughts, right?
0:20:56.2 AA: Why write a 40 minute, five paragraph essay when you could write a research paper? That's a serious question why? Why is that the choice? And because so many students worry about college tuition and admissions, the cost of veering from these increasingly mechanical prescriptions can feel really high. And I wanna think about what the costs are for adhering to them. So a reductive, cynical approach to humanistic fields really bothers me because I think that there's value in the messiness.
0:21:31.8 NC: I think there's also the practical argument of the disciplinary work that happens in AP courses often doesn't look like the similar disciplinary work, even in the intro level classes that those AP credits would ultimately replace.
0:21:48.8 AA: I think. Right. On that point, I wanna be really clear about something. Which is that teachers can offer great survey courses, right? Like to see a teacher five days a week and get someone who gets to know their students, who addresses their concerns. You can like take little garden paths and explore strange things. Teachers can offer really great survey courses. The difference between high school and college, letting the college board define what counts as an introductory survey course, right? Like I guess, should a really great high school survey course count for college credit. Can it just be its own great thing? Why not? I'm really asking like what you think, right? Why?
0:22:44.7 NC: Okay. Oh, I don't know why, I wish it could, like that was the frustration that I've shared with you about the way that I was forced to teach my AP European history class feeling, all of those things that you had just mentioned. Here I have a group of students who has chosen to be in a environment that they know will be challenging. It's got that AP moniker attached to it. It's got the anxiety of the exam at the end of the year. But they've chosen this challenge for themselves and I kind of took it seriously to be the steward of that environment. But I would do the same thing even in the class that was just European history, a European history survey that covered the same amount of time.
0:23:31.2 NC: Probably would, ease off on the content coverage a little bit 'cause it's a little bit much, to try to get done with sophomores in a single year. But I instead just go through the big picture themes and really work with students to make connections and explore how do we express historical thinking in a lot of different modalities, right? In writing, how do we explore it in perhaps in video? How do we communicate that to new audiences here today? What does popular history reading and writing look like for different audiences? All the questions that the AP course precludes because it's so focused on, to your point, a very mechanical set of rubrics, a very prescriptive set of skills that to get a seven on this DBQ, you have to use six out of seven documents and analyze the point of view of three of them and provide context at least once and bring in one outside piece of evidence.
0:24:26.9 NC: And I mean, frankly, it leads to student expression in writing that isn't worth reading. It's not interesting. It's very canned and it seems like I always felt constrained as though I could be doing so much more. And I tried, and when I did, oftentimes I'm criticized for kind of going, taking too much time to explore a topic or to do something interesting with it instead of what the college board curriculum demanded or even what colleagues in person and online, because I was part of some AP teacher communities on Facebook and elsewhere too, would say, no fancy projects, no, any of this cut all of the interesting things, cut all the film studies, cut all the movies, stick to what the college board gives you and that's the prescription for student success and that's what you should be focusing on.
0:25:20.7 AA: It's not only the prescription for student success, right? It's the prescription for what both high school and college look like and the prescription for collapsing those kinds of institutions together. And I guess...
0:25:35.6 NC: That has consequences as well.
0:25:38.1 AA: Right. And part of the complexity of the issue is like there are so many levels of decisions there, right? Like you could choose not to collapse these things together. You could choose to collapse them together in different ways, right? Like there are a lot of different paths out, but this one path doesn't seem like it should be above scrutiny.
0:25:56.5 NC: No. And it's definitely a case of then what we choose to measure and value then becomes the practices and the pedagogies that we implement. The cool projects and the film studies that I thought and got student feedback on that were incredibly valuable and engaging for them and memorable across their whole school experience. Those don't end up on the placard on the wall when they talk about AP scholarship. They don't end up in the score report that teachers get in August, when you finally get the scores back, right? You just get a one through five, those things get averaged out. It kind of is what it is. And it really flattens not only the experience, but the way that that experience is represented and expressed to people who aren't in that room. They don't get to see the hustle and bustle and the energy and the thinking and the dialogue and discourse and discussion that actually come with a living, breathing classroom. They just see the end result.
0:26:53.0 NC: And then what we would do in my context then, I don't know if this was yours, but then in the fall, the AP teachers would come together, we'd meet with the principal and he'd hand out our score reports and say, okay, what did you do well on? What could you be working better? We had to set AP goals, based on those score reports for what we wanted to improve on in the coming year. So they had consequences for us too.
0:27:17.4 AA: Yeah. Yeah. And again, the question is by what authority, right?
0:27:22.5 NC: Yeah. Well, let's get into the current events, I suppose. So the book is brand new, the time people are hearing this, but a lot of our private conversations in the last year have been about the college board's role in capitulating to the escalating ideological war on academic freedom, on public education and the public university system. And as you had mentioned earlier, that became especially clear in the public fight to the extent that there was a fight at all between the Florida Department of Education and the college board over this AP African-American history course. What happened there and why was that? And it feels like that was forever ago now, but here we are in April, subsequent incidents. Why was that such an ominous bellwether for the role of the college board going forward in an era of state censorship?
0:28:17.7 AA: Yeah, I mean, in one sense, who knows what happened there, right? There's a lot of privacy. But HB7, the Stop WOKE Act, something that was really frustrating to me as people were discussing it, it had a provision already for a very distinct definition of African-American history, right? Like a very clear vision for what African-American history courses should do. And so was the college board already going to stick within that frame anyway? The companies stated AP principles declare transparency is a core value. But over weeks of reporting about AP African-American studies, it became clear that the college board had been working with Florida's DOE, which meant ultimately compromising scholars and teachers work. So to my mind, the notion of a college level African-American studies course that relies on both profit and the approval of people with political power, I'm not a scholar of African-American studies, but I don't see it.
0:29:29.2 AA: I don't know. I wish I was surprised by how that played out. But if you pay attention to the legislation that shapes AP, it's clear that they're all vulnerable to political influence. So in 2006 in Florida, Jeb Bush signed legislation requiring K to 12 courses to adhere to a very particular definition of American history. I'm gonna read it. "The history of the United States, including the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the World Wars and the Civil Rights movement to the present. American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence."
0:30:23.0 AA: So there's a lot in there that a lot of people would agree with, right? But the thing is, there are other ways to teach American history. And again, it's not a radical notion to think so, right? The program's founders were Cold War centrist, right? And a lot of them were really resistant to the notion of standardized history courses. But what incentive does the college board have now to stray from Jeb Bush's outline? And then if you look at legislation like Ohio's Senate Bill 83, which the AHAs, Jim Grossman just wrote an op-ed denouncing, it requires six core techs in, government or history courses, right? Is AP going to exceed to those demands too? What incentive does it have not to?
0:31:13.2 AA: So a question I have, right? Like at what point do the courses become propaganda? I worry about that line becoming blurry. I used to think that that was a really distant threat, right? That this was like a threat that we were recording, but that would never be realized, right? And now I don't know. The other thing is that centralization of curriculum and privatization can become like a tap that politicians turn off, which is what DeSantis demonstrated. In some ways. DeSantis was saying like, look at what the structure is. Is this okay with everyone? Right? So I think that Thomas Jefferson was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right, I think to argue that people should learn history to defend their own rights. So I'd rather empower teachers, professors communities than rely on any centralized standardized curriculum.
0:32:06.6 NC: Let's bring that equity conversation back in and say there are probably some schools that are not going to offer an African-American histories course or they haven't or they wouldn't. However, AP has this approved course, it can start to train some teachers into taking it and it can offer perhaps for the first time an AP African-American history course in a space perhaps where that would not normally happen. However, the caveat, of course, is that it's gonna be this version that has to be acceptable in a place like Florida with a Stop WOKE Act. It has to be acceptable in places like Iowa where we have our own so-called divisive concepts bills, right?
0:32:50.7 NC: So it really is that there is that trade off of having that big centralized authority, again with the moniker... Under the moniker of equity, offering these courses that are propagandistic or teaching a particularly narrow acceptable mainstream notion of what African-American history looks like that excludes certain movements and people and certain texts and certain visions for the messiness of that history in the same way that they did for US history. There's a lot of tension and problems in that.
0:33:26.1 AA: Yeah. I think in February a lot of, scholars were saying there's a difference between African-American history and African-American studies.
0:33:35.4 NC: Ooh, okay.
0:33:37.0 AA: And the idea was that the latter was messier and more expansive and more difficult to pull off. I think that expanding access to marginalized voices is important. I think that the means by which we do it matter a lot. So you taught AP, right? I have thought a lot about the experience of being handed the AP African American Studies curriculum and being told to follow this path, right? And if you deviate from this path, maybe not in New York state, but maybe in New York state, right? Like I could be fired pretty quickly and in a...
0:34:18.9 NC: In Iowa Yeah.
0:34:20.5 AA: Right. Yeah. And so I wonder about teachers feeling supported to take on that risk, right? I wonder about students' curiosity. Part of the concern to me also is that if you have teachers saying to students like, we can't talk about that here. How much cynicism does that breed in students about schooling, about government services in general? Right? It's a tricky thing.
0:34:54.7 NC: It speaks to the issues that we're dealing with right now with, this generational divide in what kids are being precluded from learning and the dictates of adults and lawmakers and legislatures and their influence on what it is that they can and can't learn. I think it does breed cynicism. Sorry, you were gonna say something else there.
0:35:19.1 AA: Yeah, and I guess also I wonder like, can an administrator require that a teacher teach the AP African-American Studies course regardless of their preparation or interest level, and wouldn't you prefer to have well qualified teachers? I don't know. And I think that like, again, pushing the issue of this course is a good thing. Expanding access is a good thing, but access to what I think matters a lot and maybe the process is incremental, right? Maybe this is step one, but I worry about it becoming set in stone like so much else with AP.
0:36:06.3 NC: Your comment there really sparks... Gets me thinking about what if I was in that position, AP African-American history would be, that would be a challenge that I could... I would lean into and that I think I could take on. However, I'm imagining this scenario where, okay, so with my degree in history and my understanding, I can, in my AP European history class, bring in a speech or a piece of art or some music or something that helps supplement the experience of what it is that we're learning. And it's not controversial.
0:36:38.0 NC: However, if I were teaching the African American history course and I said, oh, we're gonna watch Stokely Carmichael's speech over here and see how that contrasts with the rhetoric of the Civil rights movement, the mainstream civil rights movement at the time, that could be seen as me bringing in some kind of perspective that is intended to make people feel guilty or intended to be divisive or bringing in a political perspective or something. And it therein lies the rub, right? In the sense that it's not seen as political or it's not seen as particularly divisive when I flex my professional judgment in a European history context to supplement it with poetry and art and writings and everything else. But it is political. On the one hand when we're talking about the experience of black people in the United States and I wanna flex my same professional judgment in that arena, knowing what I know.
0:37:40.2 AA: Yes, that's it.
0:37:44.2 NC: It's Troubling. Yeah.
0:37:45.1 AA: It is troubling. Yeah.
0:37:45.9 NC: So Annie, you lament in the closing sentences of the book that, "It doesn't offer a clear path out of this mess," yet the audience for this book, the audience of people looking to resist the use of power and centralizing control that you warn about and that we are experiencing in states across the country, what can we offer as counter-narratives as action, or perhaps hope that the future doesn't have to look like the present?
0:38:10.3 AA: One thing about history is that it makes clear that the past didn't look like the present, right? And so that unsettles notions that the future will look exactly like the present. I think it's important for people not to feel hopeless. I think it's important for people to view themselves as agents, and to read a lot and to talk a lot about what's possible with colleagues and with neighbors. I think vitality is the thing.
0:38:40.9 NC: To add, or to come back to that notion, I think you had used this word messiness of the African American studies as opposed to the African American history. I think there really is this desire for clarity and perhaps even like superhuman clarity about inputs and outputs about the standardized approach, standardized input gains, the standardized output that we desire so much control over that. And yet part of what the humanities have to offer is to, what you've said throughout this whole conversation is that that messiness, and I think there's a lot of that that's being lost the more that we seed that power and control to these standardizing, homogenizing bodies, be they state legislatures who want to control what it is that you wanna teach or private companies like the college board. And it's particularly troubling that we're seeing the slow rolling unification between these two bodies in this era.
0:39:44.9 AA: It troubles me too. I think that another thing that the program's founders emphasized is that working together strengthened the quality of education for them. So it wasn't about setting up standards and then viewing those standards as eternal or fixed, right? It was about continually revising together, talking about what worked, what didn't work. It was the conversation that they really benefited from. And I wonder about possibilities for reinvigorating something like that, right? It would take a lot of time and a lot of space and I don't know who would pay for it.
0:40:30.9 NC: I don't think the college board would be paying for it. But that really is the... It's not a solution in the sense that people are seeking... They're seeking that superhuman clarity and those superhuman solutions. And perhaps, to bring pop culture in. Maybe that's the revival of superhero movies, is that they offer simple solutions. And one thing that we know from human experience is that unless it's derived from consensus and discussion and debate and incorporates a variety of perspectives and inputs, that it's not gonna be a lasting or sustainable one.
0:41:08.8 NC: I think part of this debate that you had mentioned over these standards really reflects our national discourse or lack thereof of constitutional issues today. We say we have this document, we have to treat it as if it's sacro-saints rather than something derived from the will of the people or subject to future amendment. The college history standards or English standards are not something that's handed down from on high in the same way. Those can be something that we can arrive at collaboratively and collectively too.
0:41:44.0 AA: Right. It should be an occasion for exercising democratic habits, right?
0:41:50.2 NC: Yeah. A document is a starting point, whether it's a governing one for representative bodies or a governing one for educational bodies. And increasingly it seems like the college board and AP are kind of being treated more like the superheroes, rather than the start of the conversation.
0:42:11.8 AA: I think that that is, yes.
0:42:14.9 NC: Cool. Well, that's... All I wanted was for you to agree with me with the conversation. So mission accomplished.
0:42:21.9 AA: Perfect. We figured out the one true path.
0:42:24.6 NC: It's been such a pleasure to finally talk with you about this absolutely vital topic. Thank you so much for joining me today. The book is, Shortchanged How Advanced Placement Cheats Students Out on April 25th, 2023 from John's Hopkins University Press and available anywhere quality books are sold.
0:42:44.5 NC: Thank you again for listening to our podcast at Human Restoration Project. I hope this conversation leaves you inspired and ready to start making change. If you enjoyed listening, please consider leaving us a review on your favorite podcast player. Plus, find a whole host of review resources, writings, and other podcasts all for free on our website, humanrestorationproject.org. Thank you.
Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students from Johns Hopkins University Press