Why is AP U.S. the Most Misunderstood Class?

Homework. Essays. Tests. Debates. What is there to love?

As humans, we love to create structure and order. Often, we do this by ranking different tasks in order of difficulty. Studies have shown that it is in our nature to seek out the path with the least resistance. AP United States History or APUSH has been, for the longest time, the dreaded AP class. Between the coursework and the expectation to regurgitate super specific details about old dead white dudes the discussion surrounding APUSH seems to be mainly negative. With course selection beginning within a matter of weeks, it is important to weigh all of our options in order to create a balanced and manageable schedule. That being said, it is important to not rule out APUSH as a potential class without fully understanding the class.

A little about me. I have always been a history nerd since I was a kid. Each year at the book fair I was sure to get the newest edition of I Survived and Who Was…? I was captivated by the fact that the world had been through a great deal of struggle, prosperity, and evolution all before I was here to witness it. During my transition into adolescents and dealing with all the baggage that comes with middle school, I lost sight of my interests and saw social studies as I class that I just had to get through, and not one that I enjoyed. Coming into high school was a breath of fresh air and I finally felt like I was in the right place at the right time to fully immerse myself in my classes. 

Despite all my ambitions to soak up as much knowledge as I could, I was still hesitant to take APUSH. I spoke to a fellow classmate, junior Elizabeth Gonnella, to see if her experiences were similar or different to mine. I was curious to know if she too had heard horror stories about the class from DHS upperclassmen. Right off the bat, she admitted that “everything I heard was very negative”. Frankly, I was not surprised. She shared a similar experience where her peers “made it sound kind of awful”.

Take this class and you too will understand this. (Pinterest)

Then I asked the burning question that I have been anticipating: did you take APUSH because you love history or because you felt like it was a class you had to take? Gonnella responded, “I like history… American history is not all that interesting to me but I would say I am more of a history person than anything else”. She also noted that “the deciding factor was that it is a class I should take”. Gonnella went on to share how she has found success in APUSH, admitting that “It is not an easy class but it is a lot better than I imagined it to be…I probably do the most work for APUSH, but honestly, if you study, if you do the work if you do the homework, and take good notes in class, it’s not all that bad.” 

That there is the key. Sure, having a baseline of interest in the class is important but in order to walk away with a grade that you are proud of, you need to put in the work. I think the most common misconception is that there is too much work to handle. APUSH is a college-level class so you must expect a fast-paced curriculum and homework almost every night. That being said, the way APUSH is portrayed throughout DHS is misleading. I have even heard from a fellow classmate that AP Environmental Studies (or APES), which has been deemed the “easiest AP” oftentimes has more work than APUSH.

A record number of kids who dropped the course over the summer

— Mr. Bruce Clarke

I spoke to history teacher Mr. Bruce Clarke, one of the APUSH teachers who has been teaching the course for 22 years at Darien High School. Mr.Clarke noted that “coming out of COVID…standards were relaxed…resulting in kids earning grades dishonorably”. Mr. Clarke also added that there was a “record number of kids who dropped the course over the summer” meaning that students signed up for the class during the spring of their sophomore year, but before even stepping foot in the class, they dropped out. Mr. Clarkes’ reasoning for this is the “decline in kids taking challenging humanities classes” because of “S.T.E.M. credits”. He also credits this due to the fact that we are becoming a “generation of kids who don’t want to read as much”.

All that being said, Mr. Clarke left me with a takeaway, he stated that he is “unwilling to bow down and cave to low standards” something which he is “proud of ”. 

This is a challenging course. That being said, it is do-able with the right about of effort, creativity, and dedication. I urge you to consider taking this class if you are eligible because not only are you learning about the creation of the very country that we live in, but it teaches you more about yourself as a student and a person.