Race, Gender and Ethnicity in the United States History Survey: Introduction

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It is one of the great pleasures and challenges of the Advanced Placement Program that many of the central enduring dilemmas of a discipline insist upon resolution. The sort of matters that can provoke the wry smiles of seasoned colleagues across a faculty meeting require concrete resolution for the real-world operation of this large-scale liberal arts enterprise seeking to span the realms of school and college. These matters can not be for us, in that lamentable popular expression, "an academic question." Courses need to be taught, teachers supported, students challenged, work assessed. And what are these dilemmas? Our authors have set some of these on the table for us: What constitutes the survey, and what are its central goals? How do we "reconcile the tyranny of generalization with the anarchy of the particular" as Jonathan Chu so nicely puts it? How do we ensure that new research in women's history - or any other new threads of scholarship for that matter - gets integrated into college and AP high school courses, and avoids the "add women and stir" recipe approach Mary Frederickson so aptly captured? (I do note it is a cooking metaphor, but will leave it there). How do we get beyond the "basic mantra of patriarchal hegemony," as Mary argues, and destabilize the survey a bit, even perhaps transforming it by letting go of chronology some, by subverting the "tyranny of coverage," and by stopping cleaning up the dirty mess that is our wonderful human heritage, arriving someday, just maybe, beyond the "unsexed and neutered" stories, learning more richly about women and men? How do we move ethnicity and immigration beyond, as Diane Vecchio urges, their bounded period units and beyond their association with "problems"? And in all of this, how can we insure, as Uma Venkateswaran has illustrated, that the way we assess student achievement fairly reflects what we're after, and also helps us understand what in fact is happening in classrooms around the country, so that we can inform ourselves more accurately of the status of this noble craft? For the survey, and therefore for the AP United States history course, these questions get answered whether explicitly addressed or not. AP is a mirror, if you will, as faithful as our approaches allow, to the answers made by faculty on their own.

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Reprinted with permission in The History Teacher, Volume 37, Issue 4, August 2004. At the time of publication, the author was affiliated with the College Board. At the present time, he is a senior fellow with the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
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