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Opinion: A Colorado high schooler’s lament about Advanced Placement classes and almighty curriculum

Although meaningless to most of the population, many high school students taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes for college credit are intimately familiar with the name Trevor Packer. 

Packer is the senior vice president of the College Board, the organization overseeing the AP program, and has a prolific presence on Twitter. Packer is a face of the most visible of the organizations that govern the lives of so many students.

A vast, ever-shifting network of government bureaucracy also exists, drafting what amount to royal decrees under the flickering fluorescent lights seemingly requisite within public school buildings.

Caleb All

I’m a junior in high school, currently attending school under a hybrid model of online and in-person learning, and I have never heard so much about or been so preoccupied with “the curriculum” in my life. This abstract, faceless monster is nipping at the heels of every student and teacher. With the reverence with which these curriculum standards are held, one might think they were passed down by the prophets of the public school system from some unknown god.

In many ways, “curriculum” is not dissimilar to theological law. It dictates what I learn, when I learn, and how I learn. Behind almost every decision a teacher or school district makes, curriculum is likely at the root. 

This year, it feels like a heavy presence in every classroom, pushing students to learn faster and do more with less time than ever before. For students taking Advanced Placement classes, the pressure is even more acute as, for many, the AP tests at the end of the year represent the keys to college, held by a cruel gatekeeper — the College Board.

It wasn’t always this way. Western education has largely abandoned the premises it was founded upon. Were Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle present to witness the current state of education, they would almost certainly weep (and not just because a majority of students wouldn’t know who they were).

The first higher education institutions in the Western world were developed in Athens by these thinkers, focusing on developing logic, reason, philosophical insight, an appreciation of the arts, and arithmetic skills. Classes consisted largely of discussions and lively debate between the pupils and the teacher. Anything similar to the modern idea of a test was meant only to refine teaching, not to measure any perceived failings of the students.

This vision of education has been largely abandoned in the past few centuries when the dual forces of capitalism and scientific taxonomy dictated that every student should be meticulously sorted and labeled. 

Of course, to best achieve this mission, “objective” standards of education needed to be developed. In reality, this meant finding the easiest and most shallow ways to evaluate the “learning” of a student.

Today, Silicon Valley has seized upon this desire to find every way possible to reduce a student to a number. Or, more accurately, multiple numbers, especially in the age of online learning. Whether it’s trying to create artificial intelligence to grade essays or a tool to measure the perceived disadvantage of a student, today’s capitalistic technocrats seek every opportunity to capitalize upon the desire to automate learning.

Advocates of this modern vision of learning claims that it reduces discrimination and leads to better learning outcomes.

In reality, it has placed the responsibility for a student’s education almost wholly on themselves, disproportionately harmed almost every minority group, and contributed to the most sadistic inequalities present in today’s society.

As educators and legislators gather across Colorado to determine the next steps for education as COVID-19 intensifies, deliberating on curriculum and test security, they seem more preoccupied with preserving a system of education that has consistently failed to promote learning outcomes than using these unprecedented circumstances to rethink education.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Instead of trying to find contracts with private companies who promise to identify cheating, those in positions of power should ask why today’s students feel the need to cheat. Why a grade has become so important it can almost single-handedly determine a student’s chances of getting into a top college. Why tests cause vomiting and panic attacks.

I’ll have to stay up later tonight because of the time I spent writing this. Not to learn, but to ensure the faceless gatekeepers of my future deem me worthy to allow me past the pearly gates of higher education.


Caleb All is a high school junior in Longmont.


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