In high school, I took an Advanced Placement World History class that focused on teaching the history of a diverse range of cultures.
But in July, the College Board, a not-for-profit education organization that runs the AP program, announced AP World History will no longer include material that occurred before the year 1200 to adequately cover all of human history. The College Board originally sought to start AP World History at about year 1450 before amending its plan due to receiving criticism that the class would be too Eurocentric.
Nevertheless, it will exclude thousands of years of human history from its curriculum, only covering the past 800 years.
The new AP World History: Modern course is set to launch next fall. The College Board is also working to create a pre-1200 class option because of backlash it received.
But that can not become a reality unless high schools agree to pay for another AP class. Another option is the new Pre-AP World History and Geography course, which would still be an additional cost to schools and doesn’t provide students with the opportunity for college credit.
Beginning the study of world history in 1200 gives students a fragmented understanding of the cultures they are learning about. While it might make for an easier curriculum to teach, it disregards massive contributions to the world from many societies during earlier eras in history, like the ancient Egyptian culture, the creation of agriculture and the lives of Aristotle and Confucius.
Howard Spodek, a world history professor who has worked with Philadelphia high schools to revise their world history curricula, said he disagrees with the College Board’s decision.
“Not only are they taking out the importance of the non-Western world, but they’re taking out the importance of the early Western world, too,” Spodek said. “These are the elements that help us see the world whole, see how we’ve developed, and they’re taking it out.”
Through studying major historical events, we can more effectively understand contemporary political issues, like race relations and economic inequality. By ignoring those events, we’re looking at modern politics from an incomplete view.
The College Board is disregarding the eras when non-Western empires, like China and Persia, were the dominant states on the planet. After 1200, the focus of world history shifts toward Europe due to the Renaissance and colonialism. By changing the start date of world history, the College Board is examining world history in a Eurocentric lens without properly representing other cultures.
Looking back on my time studying AP World History, I see the importance of an unabridged curriculum. Learning about the history of multiple countries gives students the ability to sympathize with the struggles of other cultural groups. By understanding the history of Latin American or Middle Eastern cultures, students can grow to understand the plights of these groups, which can be pivotal in a country where immigration policy is a controversial issue.
“What we teach matters,” said Timothy J. Patterson, a secondary social studies education professor. “My concern is that by constricting teachers’ choices in selecting material to cover, what they’ve done is limit teachers’ ability to speak to diverse cultures in their classroom.”
The College Board is not only giving students an unfairly Eurocentric view of history, but also is damaging their educational experiences. And in a world as culturally diverse as ours, providing a partial view of history feels like a crime.