Bring Back AP Human Geography

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Issue 5, Volume 112

By Nelli Rojas-Cessa 

Last year, my first high school class was Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography. At 9:10 a.m., I would sign onto Zoom and often spend hours after class studying whichever chapter we were assigned. However, Stuyvesant no longer offers this course because it was considered too demanding for the freshman class. Though it was the most challenging class I took as a freshman, next year’s freshmen should have the opportunity to sign up for AP Human Geography. The class teaches concepts that are not found anywhere else and has an integral role as the only AP humanities class offered to freshmen.

AP Human Geography encompasses all of human history and hones in on spatial patterns and current events. The course is split into seven units: geographic tools and methods, population and migration, culture, politics, rural-land use, urban-land use, and industrial and economic development. Within each chapter, the concepts mainly consist of models, categories, and patterns in human space and time that students must learn and provide examples of.

The class also offers a unique approach to social studies. It gave me a pool of knowledge to draw from when understanding current events and studying history. One of the skills that I improved immensely was making connections, since the course often reveals how the distinct seven units are deeply related to each other. It also gave me a newfound appreciation for history, whose importance in everyday life I didn’t understand until I took the class.

The creators of AP Human Geography are also self-aware enough to criticize their own models for being Eurocentric or ethnocentric, which are pertinent to recognize, as it is easy to cover up racism, sexism, and other prejudices in history. In an AP World History textbook, I noticed a lack of representation of South and Southeast Asia. It was mainly through supplemental readings that I was able to learn thoroughly about those regions. On the other hand, the chapter on Europe was extremely long, despite Europe being the least prosperous continent in the time period the unit was focusing on. When discussing women’s rights in different cultures, the textbook skips over the centuries of misogyny women faced in the name of keeping it concise, since world history is such a vast subject.

In contrast, AP Human Geography highlights the bias commonly overlooked in maps. People often see two-dimensional maps as factual when in reality, they have perceptions of the physical and social world that are often warped. For example, AP Human Geography discusses why the Mercator Projection, the most frequently used world map, is Eurocentric, since it enlarges western continents while shrinking the African continent, subconsciously affecting the way we view people based on where they come from. This type of lesson is rarely seen in purely historical courses unless the teacher chooses to have such a discussion.

The class is a lot of work, but there are a lot of payoffs. What makes the workload so difficult is the amount of focus needed to thoroughly understand each chapter while keeping up with the fast pace. This demanding responsibility prepared me for sophomore year, when the intensity of all my classes increased due to the switch to in-person learning. Freshmen next year would still benefit from the methods to learn efficiently taught in this class. While mental health is a valid concern, there will always be students who want to jump right into a challenge, and they should not be robbed of the chance to do so.

The argument that AP Human Geography is too stressful for freshmen also contradicts Stuyvesant’s decision to continue offering AP Biology to freshmen, the same class many seniors struggle with. In fact, now, the only APs available to freshmen are AP Biology and AP Environmental Science, which is unfair to students who did not have the opportunity to take the Living Environment Regents class in middle school since it is a prerequisite for both of the science APs. Not only does Stuyvesant’s recent decision limit the freedom students have in choosing courses, but it also limits the amount of non-STEM-related courses available at Stuyvesant. Students interested in non-STEM subjects miss the opportunity to study the content taught in AP Human Geography. Those students would have benefited by potentially receiving college credit, and more importantly, experiencing a dynamic and unique college-level humanities class. As the only social studies AP class available to freshmen, it played an important role in representing humanities classes at a STEM-centric school.

AP Human Geography was a valuable learning experience that I have grown to appreciate becauseit was a demanding class. It forced me to develop a better work ethic and question the information I was being taught. I am sure that this year and next year’s freshmen are capable of succeeding in AP Human Geography and overcoming all the challenges the pandemic has created for them.