As a former social studies teacher I understand the stress that can come with trying to teach a history class with content spanning millennia.
A lot of teachers feel this stress, and the College Board believes it has an answer. The College Board administers the SAT and advanced placement courses high schools. It has decided to change its AP World History course, starting in 2019, to “assess content only from c. 1450 through the present.”
The rationale is that the scope of content taught in AP World History is simply too broad, and that teachers are sacrificing depth to cover it all in a single year. The original course, created in 2001, began in 10,000 B.C.E. and ran through the current day. No more than 30 percent of course material was focused on the West.
So the College Board’s answer to the conundrum of how to teach some kind or representative history of the “world,” is to stop teaching history outside of Western imperialism? The organization Teaching Tolerance, decried the move, and recommends calling the new course, “European Colonial History.”
There are many reasons why this is a seriously misguided decision.
There is a strong relationship between positive racial identity and academic achievement for black girls, black boys, Native Americans, Latinos and other minority students. Young people of color get better grades in school when they see their racial identity positively connected to academics.
How can it be, in light of these studies, that the College Board decided to withdraw identity-affirming and culturally transparent histories from the curriculum?
Public education in the United States has a history of de-culturalizing and assimilating people; essentially using it as a tool for cultural genocide. It is important that students learn of a world prior to European’s attempt to rule over it. Children of color need to learn that their history started prior to European colonization, African enslavement, and indigenous genocide.
Likewise, white students need to learn that this world was black and brown long before their world was made white. White students make up some 59 percent of AP students nationwide, and they will benefit from a less-sanitized version of history; requiring them to see outside of a Eurocentric perspective.
Children of color need to learn that their history started prior to European colonization, African enslavement, and indigenous genocide.
Changing how students look at the history of the world could begin with learning that the Grimaldi, a Negro people, lived in Europe over 12,000 years ago. Or that the civilization of Elam (located in modern day Iran), are Negroid ancestors of the Babylonians and later the Persians, flourising around 2900 B.C.E. Or that Athanasius, an Egyptian called the “black dwarf,” was critical in establishing the Christian doctrine of the hypostatic union during the early church.
But perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. Afterall, we can’t even properly teach our own country’s history of slavery.
Public schools in America are most often white spaces. The vast majority of teachers and administrators are white. Leadership at the College Board is all white with the exception of one African American regional director. That matters. I don’t believe the decision makers at the College Board are being intentionally racist, but I do believe that without people of color in leadership, culturally incompetent decisions and policies will be made. There is no commitment to diversity without a commitment to hire people of color in leadership positions.
There is also no commitment to diversity without a commitment to teaching all students about our complicated historical relationship with skin color.
It’s a relationship that begins before 1450. It reaches back to when Europe looked to Africa for inspiration for its universities. It is revealed in the evidence of Negroid types in China between the upper Paleolithic to Mesolithic time periods. It is a complicated relationship that cannot be cut short without maintaining a false narrative of racial dominance.
While I do not believe the College Board desires to increase divisions among our students, I do think that this decision will do little to bridge them. I hope the College Board reconsiders its move.