Friday, January 18, 2008

I Don't Trust Your High School Calculus

There's still time to change your schedule -- just not very much of it. We're about three hours from the end of add/drop. Were I in charge, the add/drop period would end at the close of business hours not late on a Friday night, but we already knew that I have very little power.

Theoretically all of the students that we've been kicking out of classes for not having met the prereqs might be spending their Friday night rearranging their schedules to find a way to get into the open sections of the math classes that they aren't prepared to take. Most of them have taken calculus in high school. Many of them cite this as the reason that they should be allowed to take calculus here. A typical exchange:

Student: I took calculus in high school.
Me: Oftentimes high school calculus is very different from college calculus.
Student: It was AP calculus.
Me: Oh! If you have your AP scores sent to the registrar's office, if you got a 3 or better, then you can get credit for calculus. Depending on your major, you might not need any more math.
Student: I didn't take the AP exam.
Me: Then it doesn't count.

I grew up in New York State, and there was a requirement that every high school student needed four years of social studies. I took three years of AP social studies in high school, and I am probably a good example of the typical American who doesn't know anything about history or government, so I am already suspicious about the quality of AP courses.

One of the state's requirements was that everyone had to take a semester of American Government. I took AP American Government. This was a one-semester class in which we had no textbook, no written work, and no exams. Everyone got an A! We sat around in a circle and talked about the teacher's experiences as a rabble rouser and an activist, civil rights, and social justice*. Also, he was in a battle with the economics teacher to be more "innovative" in terms of pedagogy; he heard that the economics teacher cancelled a week of class, so he cancelled two weeks of class.

Needless to say, none of us took the AP exam. Unless presented with evidence to the contrary, I fear that your high school AP calculus was comparable to my high school AP American Government.

*These are important issues. However, there is more to American Government than Yick Wo, Plessy vs. Ferguson, and Brown vs. The Board.