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What’s unfair about AP English

Yesterday, my students finished up their study of The Metamorphosis with a thoughtful Socratic seminar. With no facilitation from me, they discussed symbols and themes in the work, and they impressed me with their level of analysis. It was abundantly clear they’d read and studied the book. They spoke confidently and intelligently; there’s no question they’re ready for a college-level discussion. And they took care of each other: They invited their shier peers to speak.

It made me proud and hopeful for our journey to come.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that just five miles away, there are richer, more privileged students who didn’t read the book, who didn’t work their butts off, who don’t much care about their peers. And these students, for the most part, will pass the AP test at a higher rate than my students.

How do I know this? Because it happens all the time. It’s part of the system. And it happened to me and my friends.

We still make jokes about it: about how we didn’t really read the books in AP English, about how we faked the discussions. We talk about our teacher, her low expectations, and her lack of organization.

And then we talk about how we all passed the test.

My students, on the other hand, will work like crazy (20-30 essays this year plus a 15-page theme study), and unless we pull off a “miracle,” the majority will fail.

The system of inequity, after all, is strong.

That’s why I’m devoted and dedicated to this class. I want my students to believe in themselves and believe that hard work does indeed pay off.

And when they do succeed — because despite the unfair reality, I do believe we can do this — by no means do I want a Stand and Deliver, Dead Poets Society, “O-Captain-My-Captain” moment. As my colleague says, This isn’t Freedom Writers.

There is no “miracle” here — just hard work — to brilliance. 

4 comments

  1. Mark Isero

    Megan, thank you for your comment. You have me thinking! I hope to write a few posts about some of the gaps I’ve observed between my students and their more privileged counterparts. I’ve already commented on how my students don’t have “built-in writing mentors” (i.e., parents who attended college). Coming up: tech access at home, book acquiring processes. Stay tuned!

    One more thing: For my students, a rich experience in English class — one that combines reading, discussion, and writing — does not necessarily correlate with success on AP-style tasks. What the AP is asking for is not just hard for my students; it’s hard in a weird way. More soon!

  2. Megan Krejci

    Yes, it’s almost like a “writing gene,” a family disposition and ability to write in the expected formats that the parents don’t even know they have. They’ve always had it, it seems to them, and so they pass it down (albeit some more successfully than others) to their kids, and the genetic pool ensures species success…

    I had not thought of that… you are right, that is a distinct advantage, to be able to speak and write (and organize your thoughts) in the expected manner…

    I look forward to your future responses! Thank you for taking the time!

  3. tony

    I am SOOOO glad you are teaching this class. I am proud of those students too. Give them my best and let them know that I am cheering for them!

Please share your brilliant insights!