Take an AP U.S. History class in most any school across the U.S. and you will do little, if any, real analysis of history. Instead, you will memorize dates, places and people. My daughter had to memorize all the U.S. presidents in order of their term, and also their party affiliation. It was totally useless and a waste of time.
It is exercises like this that drive students to abhor learning. By the time I get them, and I force them to think critically and analytically, most struggle with it, but are at least grateful that the class is somewhat interesting and not more of the same.
Here is a good explanation of what's taking place and why this struggle is only getting worse.
Let me use as an example my own AP course, U.S. Government and Politics. I served several times as a reader for the examination that follows the course. In that capacity, I read the constructed responses that make up half of the score of a student’s examination. I saw several problems.
First (and I acknowledge that I bear some culpability here), in the AP U.S. Government exam the constructed responses are called “free response questions” and are graded by a rubric that is concerned primarily with content and, to a lesser degree, argument. If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words. Thus, a teacher might prepare the student to answer those questions in a format that is not good writing by any standard. If, as a teacher, you want your students to do their best, you have to have them practice what is effectively bad writing— no introduction, no conclusion, just hit the points of the rubric and provide the necessary factual support. Some critical thinking may be involved, at least, but the approach works against development of the kinds of writing that would be expected in a true college-level course in government and politics.
My students did well on those questions because we practiced bad writing. My teaching was not evaluated on the basis of how well my students did, but I felt I had a responsibility to prepare them for the examination in a way that could result in their obtaining college credit.
I would like to believe that I prepared them to think more critically and to present cogent arguments, but I could not simultaneously prepare them to do well on that portion of the test and teach them to write in a fashion that would properly serve them at higher levels of education.
This is why I'm a ardent proponent of true school choice—schools create their own curricula and parents sort by their own choice based on content and the reputation of the various schools. Make the funding based on the number of students who are attracted to a school and subsequently served by that school. We need more experimentation through spontaneous order and rid ourselves of the command and control mandates that have been the history of U.S. education since the late nineteenth century.