AP Euro

by Sarah Valeika

If there is one lesson that my first AP class has taught me, it is the sheer impossibility of teaching the history of Europe. “Euro” had so often slid from my lips like some sort of expectedly sour milk, to the point that I seldom thought of it in terms of its content. I was not, “doing Euro homework.” I was“embarking on a futile mission to understand the entire history of a continent in less than eight months.”Futile? Yes, futile, futile because of its very name.That woman with the resolute smirk at our expense, standing before a lecture period of woebegone and mediocre teenage specimens actually believed that this‐‐ yes, this lecture‐‐ was the “gist.”The gist of the Middle Ages. This was all that we needed to know. And we toil and we drain ourselves dry and we wring out of our hard heads a 5 on the AP exam…

And we are the miserable elite. The miserable elite with a false sense of security.

I am not one to underappreciate the value of grit, but grit does not equate with intellect. We were presented a series of objective facts with no intention of internalizing them, and told, explicitly, that “in history, there is only one right answer.” Thus, our transcripts bespeak the biggest lie that we have let ourselves believe in: that we have been rewarded in the pursuit of knowledge. In fact, we have not been rewarded, but poisoned with dependence. An abusive system that corrodes us with feelings of control,when in reality, we have relinquished the freedom to simply start from square one. We espouse what the educational system believes to be basic principles and core values‐‐ we answer their questions, we begin studies with their default bank of understanding (that Hitler is “bad,” there is one victor in every battle,that real narratives are always linear). Why do we resort to that default? Because we need a certain number of points, and if they hand some to us upfront, why toil for them?

Because those points are dirty. Just like secondhand smoke, every point that we accept that relies on principles we haven’t been taught to question infects us, and weakens our system. Soon, our system becomes too weak to resist.

Of course, many would respond that in the “real world,” one has to “play to one’s audience,” to fit the system, to learn not just for learning’s sake. If this is true, heaven spare those who live in the real world.

Author Bio: Sarah Valeika is a high school sophomore who has had her work published previously in Teen Ink’s website, Menagerie and The Noisy Island. She draws inspiration from her theatrical performances and her experiences in a school orchestra.