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A REAL AP Class – Inspired by Former Students

If the seniors at our school didn’t have to take my Economics and Government course – it’s a graduation requirement – most wouldn’t.

This isn’t me lacking confidence in what I teach. It is me recognizing that the name of my class isn’t prefaced by two critical letters: AP. Economics and Government isn’t an advanced placement class.

Thank goodness.

Thank goodness because AP courses are nothing like what the College Board (their creator) claims them to be – “rigorous college-level curricula and assessments to students in high school.”

In reality, although they may be rigorous (depending on how you define that term), AP courses are unlike any college course I ever had. Typically, college courses aren’t clones. They aren’t driven by a test created by someone far removed from the professor. Most importantly, unlike AP’s, college instructors usually create their own curriculum based on their own expertise.

That’s what I try to do. Except that it’s not me who is mostly creating a real college-level course. More and more, it’s my former students giving me the content. One of the advantages of getting old (and I keep discovering them) is that I get to watch my students grow up. Some are struggling. Some are OK. And some are living fabulously and inspiringly.

The members of that last group have become my new education school professors. Even though I got my official teaching credentials from San Jose State’s School of Education when Ronald Reagan was president, I have never stopped being obsessed with learning what kids need to master in order to live meaningfully, happily and productively. Lately, my source of curriculum inspiration is alumni students who are living the life.

Prominent among them is Camille Ricketts. Camille was in my 7th grade English and my eighth grade history class. After high school she went to Stanford, wrote for the Wall Street Journal in London and New York, worked at Kiva (“Loans that Change Lives”) and is now a key part of First Round Capital, a super successful seed-stage venture firm.

When I want to know what my students need to make it in today’s economy, I ask Camille. When I can’t ask her, I read her. She writes First Round Review, which focuses on sharing the methods and wisdom of tech start-up superstars. One of my favorites is this recent piece about how to hire.

My students aren’t going to hire anyone for a while, but they better know what those who are are looking for. For real-world knowledge, Camille’s “book” beats the heck out of any textbook.

Steve Jobs used to say that he knew what his customers wanted before they knew what they wanted. I feel the same way about my teaching. I know what my students need to know before they know they need to know it.


It’s not magic. I’m no seer. But since my pupils from the past provide me a peek at the future, I’d be a fool to not to take advantage and analyze the heck out of them.

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