In a recent article in The Atlantic John Tierney took a hard, unsubtle look at AP courses, straightfowardly titled, “AP Classes are a Scam.”
Tierney, a former college professor and high school teacher, describes AP courses as “a scam the scale and audacity of which would raise Bernie Madoff’s eyebrows.” (Of course, if you know that AP courses are controlled by The College Board, your eyebrows should be raised from the get-go.)
He finds many problems with AP courses, starting with his observation that they are not “remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate.” He says while AP credits can allow students to skip intro-level classes (which is often a disservice to the students, by the way, as we discovered at Drexel with our first-year writing courses), they increasingly still have to take the same total number of total credits; in other words, the AP experience they pay for doesn’t result in less money spent on their real college courses.
He goes on: Too many students now take the courses; minorities “are essentially left out of the AP game”; AP courses hit high school schools with a significant opportunity cost, as teachers and resources in those schools are shifted away from non-AP courses.
His biggest critique is that AP curricula lead to “rigid stultification,” a “forced march” through a pile of material: “The AP classroom is where intellectual curiosity goes to die.”
Okay, Mr. Tierney, good points. But it’s too late. Despite all your valid issues with the “scourge of AP courses,” there’s no going back. (See more in this Inside Higher Ed review that Tierney cites.)
So let’s embrace an AP mindset. Let’s extend the AP paradigm to all kinds of accomplishments, relationships, and credentialing in our culture. Let’s continue not to pursue an experience, but a simulation of that experience. Let’s keep up structures that result in bizarre outcomes like being able to have a 5.5. GPA on a 4.0 scale. (I mean, why have the scale at all? It reminds me of the This is Spinal Tap scene in which guitarist Nigel touts his amp, which maxes out at 11 on the dials instead of 10. When interviewer Marty asks why the amp can’t simply be louder with 10 still at the top of the scale, Nigel bemusedly says, “These go to 11.” You have to watch it.)
AP has hit a perfect sweetspot. People with extra money and therapy-level educational anxiety can get a tasty sweet for their consciences by having their kids get credentialed as advanced. Advanced! One of the smart aspects of Tierney’s critique is that he grants that there are indeed children who are advanced academically, but now we’ve just opened up the gates (can you say, “College Board profits”?) so the resume-monger generation can load it up.
Let’s keep it going. Let’s embed this specialness everywhere:
- AP driver’s licenses. I know many a ten-year-old — and a few six-year-olds — with at least as much power of concentration as adults. Let ‘em get that driver’s license, if for no other reason than they can serve as a designated driver for their besotted parents, who can take maudlin pride to a new level as they are chauffeured home by sixth-grader Chris on weekend trips home from Twistie’s Tavern.
- AP drinking. Speaking of Twistie’s, why can’t we get a legal head start on the excitement of alcohol consumption? Creating a baseline examination derived from observations of the behavior of many adult drinkers, I think we would be able to create a fair test for the aspiring youth drinker to pass. Unlike most boozers, whose coaching involved a fourteen-year-old neighbor named Ray gurgling out drinking platitudes from beneath his well- groomed grape juice mustache, your AP drinker would get focused advice from pros.
- AP President. The law says you have to be 35 to be PotUS. But the gifted should be able to move the dial back a few years. A multiple-choice leadership test or five-paragraph essay should be able to identify those with incredible leadership, and based on your score you get an earlier shot at the Oval Office — or at least you can say so on your resume.
- AP varsity letter. Why should you have to linger around for a whole sports season to get your letter when you’re clearly good enough now? The AP varsity letter allows you to demonstrate your considerable athletic prowess on your resume without all those push-ups, drills, and group showers.
- AP marriage/relationship. You can get advanced credit to qualify you for marriage or a long-term relationships, without actually going through it all. Your resume will scream out, “I am a commitment-based person!”
- AP salary. You should be able to prove that you are good enough to receive a paycheck now. The AP salary certificate allows you to start receiving money immediately, based on a rigorous standardized test of your earning qualities.
Yeah, we’ll extend the AP frame of “You’re ready now!” For a few hundred dollars, you can get credits like these (the AP marriage credit will cost you a little more than the others). Your resume will be a wealth of credentials — driving, budding Presidency, sports success — just as long as you, or your school district, can pay the testing fees.