An AP class is challenging and hard on the mind, especially for a sophomore. Writing, which has never been my strong suit, was especially challenging for me but it ended up paying dividends in the latter part of the year. AP European History, a year-long marathon and a war but a truly enriching and, believe it or not, a fun experience. The first few weeks were intimidating to say the least. But, after about four weeks, I could tell that it was going to be a stellar year in history class.
Despite the challenging material and the scary beginning, Euro became a fun and nurturing community. We participated in group projects that tied into the unit of study and we had the same class related worries. There might have, crazily enough, been a retention of knowledge and, even more far-fetched, an outside application of knowledge. Group projects, which were presentational, were not fun for me. I’ve never liked presenting anything, getting up in front of people was terrifying. During the first project and presentation this held true. I remember vividly that my presentation was terrible, my nervousness nearly palpable. Fast forward to the final project after the AP test, not only was I okay going first with my group, but we were able to joke around during the presentation without damaging it. This connects to Bell Hooks’ Teaching to Transgress because, through laughter, we learned in an environment that was not the normal serious and half dead class. Hooks writes, “Pleasure in the classroom is feared… They can take this attitude because the idea of reciprocity, of respect, is never assumed” (p 1) I was able to overcome my previous fear because of my comfort with the class and the safety that came with the learning environment that we had established during the course of the year. But this environment definitely did not develop easily. Much like in The Allegory of the Cave, one must go through suffering to attain knowledge. For example, our class was very challenging and if you knew a student in the class, you heard about it. It was strangely comforting and enjoyable, having people that could relate to your woes. This relatability helped us all connect to one another and build a community. I’d even go so far as to call it a family. As a result of this great learning community, I actually retained the knowledge instead of cramming it in for a short time. Stuff we learned about towards the beginning of the year came rushing back to me during the AP test. In addition to the ability to recall knowledge, I was able to apply the knowledge elsewhere. During an English assignment of some sort, I began writing point of view statements, POVs for short, which I had learned in Euro. I noticed this and I was rather appalled because nothing like this had ever happened to me before.
Speaking of writing, it was something that was especially dreadful during Euro. The first document-based question or DBQ, a part of the AP test, was shocking and worrisome. The essays are time-based where you are given a set of documents, a prompt and sixty minutes to read and write, analyzing the documents to address the prompt. At the end of the time on my first DBQ, I had finished my first body paragraph in an essay that was meant to have about three body paragraphs, an introduction and a conclusion. You wouldn’t be able to tell from that essay but writing would be a big part of the AP test for me in May. I truly believe my writing was a big part of my receiving a five on the test. Fast forward to the AP test, I opened the test packet and a wave of relief washes over me. Before looking at the documents, I knew how to write that DBQ and it was on a subject I knew well, which was an additional bonus. This is when I came into consciousness and valued all the practice we had done in class. For the entire year, I despised having to practice DBQs and FRQs, free response questions, which are DBQs without the documents and with less time, but, in the end, I saw a lot of benefit and would not have had it any other way. This parallels The Allegory of the Cave because I had to go through a great deal of pain to finally see the truth in historical essay writing. After having learned this lesson, I would not want to go back to ignoring the importance of writing assignments. In the words of Plato, “Would he not feel like Homer’s Achilles that he would far sooner ‘bo on earth as a hired servant in the house of a landless man’ or endure anything rather than go back to his old beliefs and live in the old way?” (p230)
Some would argue that one needs a positive learning environment to learn well, such as some of the arguments made in Teaching to Transgress. Others would argue that knowledge must come through a painful struggle for it, such as the arguments in The Allegory of the Cave. I would argue that they go hand in hand. Pain as well as fun can promote a strong communal feeling. Learning in a good community with struggle as well as enjoyment will almost definitely lead to knowledge being learned and kept.
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