Students petition for AP European History class



Jake Zucker, Staff Writer

“What do you know about France between the Enlightenment and the first World War?”

This question was junior Jack Heuberger’s explanation for why he believes offering an Advanced Placement European History class would benefit the social studies department. He believes that students at the high school have gaps in their knowledge of European history and feels an AP European History course would remedy that problem.  

Despite a lack of widespread interest in the class these days, AP European History still has its fans. Heuberger and other students petitioned the department to allow the course to be taken next year.

They were told by Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator Dr. Gary Shiffman that if 30 students signed up for the class without the option of dropping out, the class would run next year.

The social studies department has offered the course at the high school in the past, but it was very difficult and never had high enrollment numbers.

“The version of the class that we taught in the past was extremely demanding,” Shiffman said. “It was the hardest course offered in the department.”

While the class was always challenging, in the past enough students signed up for it to make the class viable. However, recent developments have lessened interest in the class.

“I have a couple of hypotheses about that,” Shiffman said. “There are fewer history majors, and I think that’s reflected at our level as well.”

He also noted that the existence of easier alternatives made AP European History less attractive as a class.

“There are also other options for students that want a hard AP course,” Shiffman said. “We introduced AP Human Geography two years ago, and that’s a blockbuster already. It’s much easier and much more accessible.”

Dean of Student Support Systems Brian Poon, who used to teach AP European History, thinks that its content offered students a chance to study the complicated history of a continent in-depth.

“The Europeans interacted with lots of folk,” Poon said. “There was an opportunity to examine those interactions, and the kids had a ton of choice. While there was a mandate of the content, there was also a huge amount of freedom.”

This “mandate of the content” was that the students were suitably prepared to take the AP test at the end of the year. Poon thought that the test itself was perhaps too difficult.

“The AP test has a ridiculous charge,” Poon said. “We want you to be able to do well on this test that goes from the 15th century to the present for all of Europe. It’s a very difficult task, and the specificity of the questions is really high.”

Despite this, the majority of Poon’s students were able to succeed on the test.

“My kids were prepared for the test, and they did quite well,” he said. “But I think that had a huge part to do with the kids who were attracted to take the test, who are our most high-achieving humanities students. It was a rigorous course that attracted students who wanted the highest rigor.”

That class of “highest rigor” appealed to Heuberger and his friends, who wanted that challenge and the chance to learn more about European history. But their petition failed, as they only got 20 students to sign up for the class.

Shiffman said that a potential next step for any students interested in the class is to study it in a group outside of class.

“I think it’s a tremendous experience to have a serious study group,” Shiffman said. “You learn to learn with peers, instead of with someone telling you what to read.”

Shiffman is happy to offer any interested students the necessary materials and any other help that they may need, but Heuberger is skeptical that students will be willing to commit to learning that much material on their own.

“I’m not sure people will be too willing, because most people will take another AP history instead of Euro,” Heuberger said. “Personally, I cannot imagine learning the amount of content that we cover in APUSH by myself.”