I took my first Advanced Placement course nearly four years ago in my freshman year of high school: AP World History. Throughout the year, I gained insight into thousands of years of human history, spanning from around 10,000 B.C.E. to 2000 C.E. The course, brimming with applicable content, was one of the most valuable classes I have taken in high school.
Current AP World History students, however, now engage in a class quite different from the one I took. The new curriculum, designed by a committee of college faculty and experienced AP educators, has been significantly altered. The course now begins with the year 1200 C.E. By narrowing the course content in this way, these committees have severely diminished the course’s value to students. It is not the only AP course falling short of its potential.
The College Board supported this World History decision by claiming that the past curriculum was much too broad to be covered in a single year. Accordingly, they split the course into a Pre-AP course, which deals with history up until 1200 C.E., and the official AP course, which includes post-1200 events and developments. The Pre-AP course, however, lacks a comprehensive curriculum and does not present the opportunity for students to earn college credit upon completion. Since making this split, the College Board has faced immense scrutiny. Many schools don’t have the resources to add the Pre-AP course, nor do they have the funds to purchase it. Thus, some educators are claiming that the change prevents many students from studying an essential portion of history.
The AP course, which is the sole world history class that many students have the opportunity to take, no longer examines the first civilizations, beginnings of religions, classical empires or any large period of pre-colonial Africa, America (North or South) or Asia.
World History is one of the AP program’s most popular courses, taken by over 300,000 students each year. Considering that so many students take this class, its curriculum has an indisputable capacity to have a significant impact on the development of this generation’s collective mind-set.
AP World History was initially created, in part, as an attempt to counter the Eurocentrism of the program’s other history courses, United States History and European History. Yet, with these new changes, some believe that the course became conspicuously Eurocentric.
Not only will these changes limit students’ access to a more complete understanding of human history, they will render them much less culturally competent.
Many education stakeholders claim that Eurocentrism in AP curricula is a pervasive problem, not limited to its World History course. As a high school senior who has taken a fair share of the program’s courses, many of the classes I’ve personally taken have the same issue.
This year, I am taking AP Art History. In comparison to the program’s other courses, this one is relatively obscure; only 25,000 students take the AP Art History exam each year. As the class has progressed, I have noticed that we are learning primarily about European, specifically Christian, art. Though we have seen a few pieces from cultures outside Europe and North America, the majority (65 percent, to be exact) of the course’s must-know pieces come from Western nations. Only 35 percent, or 87 of 250 works, come from other areas of the world.
Many critics argue that Eurocentrism in AP curricula is a pervasive problem.
As a biracial student of Asian and European descent, I feel that only half of my cultural identity is being adequately reflected in the course curriculum. Cognizant of the beauty and allure of Asian cultures, I feel the course should spend more time studying the progression of Asian architecture, for example, rather than repeatedly analyzing different depictions of Jesus Christ across history. In fact, the course curriculum only includes seven pieces from China, in comparison to 31 pieces from Italy. How can AP Art History students learn to appreciate their culturally diverse peers — a core objective of the course — without thoroughly examining the art of other cultures?
Even non-history AP courses suffer from this problem. AP English Literature, another class I am taking this year, places a great emphasis on white, European authors. Its list of “Representative Authors” consists almost entirely of writers from predominately white nations. Similarly, the classic novels the course discusses are, again, written almost solely by white authors — Austen, Dickens and Twain, for example.
This reality not only inhibits cultural competence, but also discourages students of color like me who are interested in pursuing the field of literature.
Admittedly, the course is supposed to focus primarily on the development of English literature. However, English literature — especially that of the past few decades — encompasses the work of many artists of color who simply are not being recognized by the AP program.
The AP World History curriculum should not start at 1200 C.E. — it should return to its prehistory origins. The AP Art History curriculum should not merely be a study of European art movements — it should discuss art trends from all parts of our globe. And the AP English Literature curriculum should look at the works of artists of color from non-Western nations as well as European authors, rather than severely underselling the former.
Changing the curriculums of these courses will be challenging and time-consuming, but will undeniably render great benefits for all AP students. Representation truly matters, and in the 21st century, higher-level courses such as those in the AP program should reflect that.
Hannah Cluroe is a senior at Arizona’s Hamilton High School and a Student Voice Journalism fellow — a program that trains high schoolers across the nation to cover educational issues in their communities.
This story about Advanced Placement curricula was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for Hechinger’s newsletter.