Michael Winerip reports this week on a Connecticut high school teacher, Chris Doyle, who won't settle for the sanitized, memorized factoids that are demanded by the AP exam:
. . . .When Mr. Doyle began his career 25 years ago, schools taught current events. But standardized testing and canned curriculums have squeezed most of that out of public education. The A.P. history course is a yearlong race to master several centuries’ worth of facts that may or may not turn up on the exam in May.
“A lot of A.P. is memorizing timelines,” explained Anna Hagadorn, who memorized enough last year to earn a top score of 5.
Even the College Board, which makes so much money selling SAT and A.P. tests that it can pay its president, Gaston Caperton, $872,061 a year, has acknowledged that its A.P. American history exam needs to be revamped. Mr. Caperton has promised by 2013 to deliver a new test that will do a better job of fostering analytic skills.
Mr. Doyle is way ahead of him. For the past several years, after his students have completed their A.P. exams in early May, he has taught a five-week course on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “Public education must engage the most pressing and troubling issues of our time,” he once wrote in an essay for an education journal.
There is no textbook yet for these wars, so Mr. Doyle does what teachers did in the olden days: creates his own curriculum. Students read excerpts from “Plan of Attack,” by Bob Woodward; “The Forever War,” by Dexter Filkins; “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone,” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; and many more.
He brings in combat veterans to speak, including Jonathan Lebeau, a retired Navy medic who is a half-brother of a former student; Richard Williams, a retired major in the British Army and a former neighbor; and Peter Van Loon, a retired Navy captain who attends the same church as Mr. Doyle.
Mr. Van Loon told the students about the time an American convoy in Afghanistan killed a 12-year-old boy, who “was my own boy’s age.” He described his feelings when he and a village elder negotiated over how much money the American military would pay to compensate the family for their dead son.
The moment they put down their No. 2 pencils, most A.P. history students forget the three ways the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, the Hartford Convention and the South Carolina Exposition and Protest were similar.
Mr. Doyle’s students aren’t likely to forget Mr. Van Loon. Caitlan Miranda took the class last year. Asked if she remembered whether Mr. Van Loon supported or opposed the war, she said, “I wouldn’t exactly say it was either,” adding, “I’d say he was conflicted” — which was exactly right.. . . .