Twenty-eight years ago on this day/date, I was on my way to Mount Vernon High School, listening to Mr. Mister, Simple Minds, Sting and Whitney along the way. I was a few minutes away from a three-hour exam that could change my future. It wasn’t exactly the sunniest or warmest of days, though. That second Tuesday in May ’86 was brisk and heavy with clouds, a high of only 52°F. Still, with the way I felt that morning, May 13th might as well have been sunny with a high of seventy-two.
I’ve written about my AP US History exam experience and Harold Meltzer ad nauseum here in this blog, as well as in Boy @ The Window. How I felt in the months and weeks before the exam. My expectations for a “5” and what that meant in comparison to taking something much less representative of the college experience, like the SAT. My perspective on my AP classmates and the general sense of obnoxious whining that permeated our classroom in throughout March and April ’86, and in whispers the following year. The keys to my academic success, and me being conscious of those keys, for the very first time. And, of course, the mentoring and tutelage of the late Harold Meltzer, the only teacher after elementary school who took a genuine interest in my development as a human being, not just in my grades or in my intellectual abilities.
I was a high school junior whom, at sixteen years old, had more wisdom about what would leave me well prepared for college than most parents, teachers and so-called education reformers possessed in ’86 or in 2014. Taking Algebra in eighth grade, AP courses in eleventh and twelfth grade, accelerated math and science classes all through high school. I knew even then that the APUSH exam was far more representative of my academic preparation than any SAT score would indicate, no matter how high.
Yet I’ve found myself in debates with folks in recent months over an issue that’s been well settled in the education world for more than a decade. Over a single four-digit score that many thought should be the difference between going to an elite school and attending a no-name local technical institute. These folks refused to recognize what even the College Board and ETS recognize. That social class and racial privilege have been infused in the SAT process for years, with so many students taking SAT-prep courses at Princeton Review and Kaplan being all the prima facie evidence I need.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Advanced Placement (or International Baccalaureate, for that matter) is much better. But in terms of the actual amount of time spent in direct preparation, with the right teacher, even an impoverished Black kid like I was could attend a public school with a magnet program and earn a “5” — without spending $1,500 on Kaplan or Princeton Review.
Enough on that. Today, I can truly say that AP US History Exam ’86 Day was a fundamentally important milestone for me. It sealed the deal I made for myself in the midst of the summer of abuse, to get out of 616, out of Mount Vernon, and into college. Thanks Humanities. Thanks, Mr. Meltzer. Thanks, classmates. And, thank God!