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AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events — and critics are furious

The August full moon rises above the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio, south of Athens, in 2017. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and start the course at the year 1450 — and some teachers and students are appalled.

The College Board, which is a nonprofit organization, announced recently that it was making big changes in the course, and said it would publish an updated course and exam description next year for the 2019-2020 school year. The more than 9,000 years that will no longer be covered in AP World History will instead be put into a new series of courses the College Board is creating for high schools that can afford to purchase it, called Pre-AP World History and Geography.

But some teachers and students have protested, saying the new course will eliminate vital material that students need to make sense of later periods, and that it will be too centered on Europe.

Why change the course after so many years? Zachary Goldberg, a College Board spokesman, said teachers and students had complained there was too much material in the single course to grasp well, and that this was the only course in the AP series that had so much content.

He said that 8 in 10 teachers of the course had reported that they could not complete the curriculum in a single year, and that most colleges were not giving credit for the entire course. AP courses are given in high school, and some colleges give credit to students who have achieved a high enough score on the AP exam linked to each of the classes.

“The problem was identified years ago,” Goldberg said in an email. “Working with educators, we have attempted to address the issue through professional development, more practice questions, and clearer exam guidelines. Yet nothing has changed in terms of student performance — students are not learning even the basic concepts of the course, let alone developing a strong understanding of cultures around the world.”

Dylan Black, a high school student in New Jersey, started a petition on that has more than 8,000 signatures so far, asking Trevor Packer, the College Board senior vice president in charge of the AP program, to reverse the decision. It says:

AP World History covers, as of 2018, 10,000 years of human history stretching from the Americas, to Europe, to East Asia, and everywhere else. The class is demanding on students, but is also one of the most rewarding, life changing classes I’ve ever had the privilege to take. The College Board wants to remove over 8000 of those years, and start the course in 1450CE. This removes HUGE amounts of history, including such events as:
*The Neolithic/Agricultural Revolution
*The creation of the first civilizations
*The migrations of humans across the earth
*The development of world religions
*The development of classical empires like Rome, Greece, China, etc.
*The beginnings of interactions and trade
*Major trade routes emerging like the Indian Ocean and Silk Roads
*Post-Classical Empires like the Islamic Caliphates and Medieval Europe
*The ENTIRE time period from prehistory to 1450.
College Board, we students and teachers call on YOU to fix this vital error. Without periods 1-3, a historical foundation can’t be built, and they are some of the most important in history.

Students and teachers took to Twitter to blast the changes with the tag @apwh. For example:

Some AP history teachers expressed concern directly to Packer, including at a recent forum in Salt Lake City, where educator Amanda DoAmaral told Packer during a testy videotaped exchange that her students of color would suffer. She said that cutting out so much history when Europe was not dominant — and not putting that material on the AP test — could mean students never learn it.

“Their histories don’t start at slavery,” she said, with some in the crowd applauding. “Their histories don’t start at colonization.”

Packer responded after the forum, writing on Twitter that more lessons on history could be put into the new course. But it wouldn’t be nearly enough to cover the concerns that were related at the forum. Here’s his tweet:

Some history teachers support the statement, including Rick Warner, a world history professor at Wabash College and a member of the AP World History development committee. Warner, past president of the World History Association, said in a statement:

On college campuses, we typically offer two separate world history surveys, split roughly circa 1450 CE. It’s simply not feasible to cover the entire scope, starting in 8000 BC to the present, in one course. The changes to AP World History will benefit teachers and students, enabling them to focus much more care and attention on studying modern world history through a truly global lens, so that students who then take further history classes in college will have the knowledge and skills to succeed.

This isn’t the first time that changes to an AP course have sparked opposition among students and educators. Several years ago, the College Board moved to overhaul the AP U.S. History course and was attacked, largely by conservatives who said the outline of the proposed changes presented a negatively biased view of American history. The College Board eventually made alterations to address the criticism.

College Board bows to critics, revises AP U.S. History course

Here’s a quick video by DoAmaral that provides the pros and cons of the changes: