Oh, Jesus, not another "letter from heaven"

I have a friend who is charming, erudite, and possessed of but one fatal flaw: She loves e-mail forwards. 90 percent of the messages she sends me are chain letters. It's gotten to the point where I think she's trying to foist bad fortune on me -- she can't possibly believe I forward all these missives on to anyone but CSICOP's Chain Letters Anonymous, right? As it stands, I am thisclose to sending her an anonymous message from "Thanks, No".

Anyway, she got me wondering how these things got started in the first place -- who had the bright idea to create an infinite letter loop? The answer, it turns out, would please CSICOP to no end: It was Jesus. According to this absurdly exhaustive history of chain letters:

Apocryphal letters claiming divine origin circulated for centuries in Europe. ... The Letters from Heaven claim to have been written by God or some divine agent. They often command Sabbath observance and promise the bearer magical protection from various misfortunes. The Letters from Heaven do not quite fit our definition of a chain letter since they do not ask that copies be made. However, some did ask the bearer to "publish" the letter, and threatened those who disbelieved. ... Around 1900 shorter and more secular letters appeared that demanded the reader distribute copies. Billions of these "luck chain letters" have circulated since then.

The pyramid-scheme-style letters involving money didn't show up until 1935; that year's "Send-A-Dime" was copied more than a billion times in just a few months. Several copies reached one Mr. Moses Odiaka of Nigeria, who saved up his dimes and now requests your gracious help in transferring them to a safe offshore bank account.

College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

North America: East or West Coast?


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