In its Fall 2006 issue, the Concord Academy magazine published an article by then-Academic Dean Patty Hager titled “Taking a Hard Look at Advanced Placement.” A steward of CA’s focus on learning, Hager underlined the school’s philosophy and mission to resist defaulting to a rigid, assessment-driven curriculum. “Just as CA is defined in significant measure by the narrative of the chapel talk,” she wrote, “the story of our academic program is—and must continue to be—compelling for those who draw close enough to explore classes here.”
Hager’s thought-provoking piece, though centered around AP courses at CA, shed light on a burgeoning initiative within the History Department—the comprehensive, department-wide shift to a semester-based, all-elective curriculum. This aimed to further empower students to develop a more profound appreciation of diversity and to foster deeper engagement with advanced coursework. While it may come as a surprise for current students and recent alumni, CA history courses were not exclusively semester electives encompassing a wide selection of topics and time periods. Up until a decade ago, ninth-graders were required to take Early Modern Europe as well as some iteration of a regional, “early era” history class. Sophomores would study US History, a survey course that spanned the entire academic year. Other electives were mostly only open to upperclassmen. The transition to the current curriculum was incremental from 2010 to 2014, and was completed by the 2014-15 academic year.
In an interview with the Centipede, history faculty member Kim Frederick—who served as the History Department Head during this curricular shift—offered insights and reflections on the process. She recalled how some students were wildly underprepared for CA’s rigorous learning environment as the student body is composed of individuals with a variety of academic backgrounds and experiences. In one case, a sophomore struggling in US History made the decision with their advisor to retake an elective designated for freshmen, which meant that they had to retake US History as a junior. This was not an isolated occurrence. “Every year, there was a kid who benefited from being able to take an elective,” Frederick concluded.
The History Department, then, divided the US survey course into two halves that are now offered to sophomores and juniors alike. This effort encapsulated the first steps toward creating more flexibility within the curriculum, granting students the freedom and ability to tailor their academic experience according to their needs. “Students were then able to choose courses without the social stigma of being ‘a junior in a roomful of sophomores’ attached,” Frederick commented. While it was still customary for underclassmen to take intro and mid-level courses and for upperclassmen to take advanced electives, classrooms were definitively more heterogeneous in terms of grade levels.
Textbooks and reading selections were the next elements to be modified in a major way. Though textbooks were chosen with great care and consideration, teachers felt that there were better ways to engage students with course material. The History Department, as a result, began to compile readings that dive deeper and generate more space for discourse. “They are history books that you would read because you enjoy it, because it offers you something to wrestle with intellectually,” Frederick remarked. “It opened up this whole new way of teaching that allows us to have histories that speak to our student body, so that kids from different cultural backgrounds and traditions are included, recognized, and empowered.” The establishment of new electives followed a similar objective: to expose students to new kinds of histories through different lenses, such as that of race, class, gender, and the environment. The list goes on and on.
For Frederick, the effort is made toward being increasingly experiential, so that kids are doing, making, and offering more. And the journey is far from over. The History Department’s willingness to bring about reform is more than a testament to CA’s dedication to making changes that will benefit the students in their high school career, and beyond. Guided by love of learning, the CA community continues to challenge and expand our understanding of ourselves and the world.