"Hi, I’m Hank Nelson, and I love history." This is how an American high school kid introduces you to himself and his podcast - Hank's History Hour. He guides the listener through the course material of AP European History. He tells what the student must know (or so he thinks), what questions to expect, what the hurdles in reading and studying the book are and so on. In short this should be an effective study guide, from an excellent student, for all those peers who need to pass the exam as well. One must assume no school kid will do this kind of thing unless he really, really loves the subject, will pass the test with straight A's and is by all means the most ideal student of history in general and this course in particular.
AP, so I learn on the net, stands for Advanced Placement, hence, this is the top level in secondary school. As an absolute outsider, I can not begin to fathom whether this podcast is in any way helpful to the struggling peers of Hank Nelson. I assume it is and tentatively I would recommend the podcast to them. But first of all I would like to recommend the podcast to everybody involved in History education, in the US and elsewhere.
Assuming this course is the top of the line and this student is as good as they get and what he is able to tell represents the highest the textbook and the course can pass on to the students - you professional listeners are in for a shock. And you may not even be expecting too much. But here are a couple of points that made me cringe dearly during the couple of hours I compelled myself to listen.
For one, Hank is consistently apologetic as to how boring the course is. He complains about certain chapters they are boring, certain subjects to be dull and is openly (and understandably) annoyed by the politically correct, but seemingly unrelated themes that are interjected in the course such as the position of women in renaissance Europe and the question whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the works of Shakespeare. So this is the state of the course: it managed to bore even the best motivated student and failed to bring coherence into the material.
Another element that made me gasp was the presented picture of European History. It is incoherent, it lacks both facts and understanding. Where there are facts they are unrelated and where there is some attempt to analysis and explanation, the construction is filled with crude, incredible and dumb stereotypes. 'if you wanna know why the age of exploration occurred, well it was all because of religion. Ferdinand and Isabelle, you know, wanted to convert everybody in Africa and Asia to catholicism.' 'What really did the Indians in, was disease. You know, before the Spanish came, they had no disease apart from syphilis.'
I could go on and maybe my standards are just too high. But I fear that if this incomprehensible, unhistorical and frankly, Hank is so right, utterly boring hotchpotch is the best kind of history education the best secondary school students get, you teach nothing. And I can't blame anybody for hating History. Hank is all right. If he can stand all this junk, and still loves history, he has so much innate historic sense, he will find his way and improve his knowledge and insight all the time, but his schoolmates will have dropped out by now and form a generation without knowledge and without meaningful connection to the past.