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Want to Foster Global Citizenship? Offer AP Human Geography

By Isaias Salomon Torres
Want to Foster Global Citizenship? Offer AP Human Geography

License-Free Image From: Berkemeyer on Pixabay

The questions that we ask as human geographers are: what is there, how did it get there, and what does it mean for the future?

As one can see, higher-level thinking skills are central to all parts of this discipline. For students that have associated social studies to three or more years of history courses (and maybe economics), focusing on the world that exists today, explaining how it got that way, and the implications of those patterns, makes AP Human Geography stand out in their academic careers.

Four years ago, I began teaching AP Human Geography (APHUG), and my life has not been the same since. Up until that point, I had been teaching history courses (U.S. and European), which by definition (or convention) are backward-looking. APHUG, on the other hand, looks at our world and helps to explain it through nearly every other lens besides the historical. As a teacher, I cherish this course because of its intellectually stimulating content, focus on women’s rights, and less-western bias. As a result, students not only have a window into the past but learn how to recognize historic patterns and apply their critical thinking skills to uncover ways to make a future impact.

There are seven curricular units in the course, but my favorite unit to teach is population and migration. In the population and migration unit, students learn about demographic changes over the last 200 years and hypothesize about what the future holds for the developed and developing world. In contrast to history courses that tend to focus on the biggest tragedies in human history, it is much easier for students to be optimistic after analyzing past population trends and predicting future demographic changes. This unit also affords students the ability to empathize with migrants by analyzing the push factors (negative domestic causes) and pull factors (positive or attractive features of the migrants’ destination country) that lead to immigration. Coupled with the information about population decline in the most developed countries, it is clear to see how migration can benefit migrants and receiving countries. This is just one example of how the course forces us to reevaluate our understanding of today’s world.

Another reason why I love teaching this content is that gender equality is central to the course. In the population unit, for example, students discuss how providing birth control, changing marriage laws, raising the age of consent, and providing education for girls are not only good for women, but they also lower the total fertility rate. These changes, in turn, spur more social changes as women are no longer seen predominantly as wives and mothers. In the development unit, these topics are discussed in terms of how to lower poverty and encourage innovation and growth for an entire country. I am not aware of another course that allows students to learn about these topics. The students that leave my course have the knowledge and understanding about why gender equality is so important and can go on to be strong supporters of this important cause.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, international and American schools very often have a Western bias. The academic material is usually in English, literature is often from Western-educated authors, and teachers usually hail from North America and Western Europe. None of this is bad, but it does continue to put focus on these regions of the world while neglecting the large majority of the world that live in other areas and whose developments will determine much of the world’s future. For example, students who take APHUG learn about population decline in Japan, the ethnic wars in the Balkans and Sri Lanka, the industrialization of South Korea, and the Green Revolution in Mexico and India. In addition to studying these processes, students learn about how modern technology is used to study these areas and how people in those areas are using this data to change their futures.

For all of the years that I taught history, people always told me about the importance of studying history because it will help us avoid the mistakes of the past. This cliche never really sat well with me. When I taught history, I did my best to emphasize empathy, nuanced understanding of complex events, and argumentation, but history courses do not seem interested in equipping students with the knowledge and skills to improve their communities. APHUG does that and more. We study the world through so many lenses and see clearly the positive trajectory of many trends. Furthermore, we do not ignore the current problems of the world. Instead, we learn how other communities dealt with those challenges. Thus, the final reason that I love APHUG is for its ability to empower our future world leaders.

The impact of this course has been so powerful for me as a teacher and for my students learning that I recommend adding this course to your school’s course options. At my school, it is offered to 9th graders (and open to the rest of the high school). While it is challenging, with proper preparation, this young group can succeed (the three-year average at my school has been above a 90% pass rate) and it has served them well in their preparation to take AP Comparative Government or AP World History in 10th grade. If you are a teacher and you are interested in teaching this course, I recommend that you approach your school administrator and maybe even pass this article along to them. I hope to see this course grow in popularity over the coming years.


Isaias teaches AP Human Geography, AP Economics, and CP Economics at the American School Foundation of Guadalajara in Guadalajara, Mexico.

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11/30/2021 - Shujaat
Totally agree. As an international student from a US university, who was raised in Pakistan, I can attest how much knowledge of “human” geography impacts perceptions and fostering tolerance and understanding beyond borders. Something that lacks incredibly in our schools systems, and can promote equity, tolerance for diversity of thought / ethnicities here (in the US) and abroad. Such courses shouldn’t be taken up as an afterthought, but deemed critical for our future as one race, the human race.