Letter to the Editor

On the Dual Enrollment Forum

Josh Ashenmiller, February 2016

To the editor:

The September 2015 issue of Perspectives on History included a stimulating forum of articles on dual enrollment—i.e., high school students taking college-level history courses, an increasingly common occurrence nationwide. Both the articles and the discussion on the AHA Members’ Forum covered a range of questions. I’d like to add another question: Does context matter? College classes taught on high school campuses may be “identical” (emphasis added by Alex Lichtenstein in his Perspectivesarticle), but does that mean the student experience is identical? In other words, does it make a difference whether the classroom is filled with 16-year-olds or with 22-year-olds? My intuition is that it does make a difference. And I think it makes even more of a difference in a community college classroom such as mine, where the range of age and life experience spans decades. The argument that a History 101 classroom on a high school campus is “identical” to a History 101 classroom on a college campus assumes that the most important interaction occurs only between the instructor and each individual student. In other words, instruction can happen just as well in a high school classroom, a phone booth, and the international space station. I don’t buy that premise. In my classes, discussions of the New Deal have been enriched by the participation of students who have worked for years at minimum wage jobs. Discussions of the Boston Massacre have been enhanced by the presence of military veterans who were once part of an occupying force in a foreign country. I am not arguing that for this reason we must cancel dual enrollment. I think it’s probably a net gain for society that so many high school students are getting a chance to take a college-level history class. But I am arguing that taking the class on a high school campus is notthe same as taking the “identical” class on a college campus. Context matters. In this case, the other students who are in the room with you make a big difference.

Josh Ashenmiller
Fullerton College, CA


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