My son is in 11th grade history this year, his last required year. It’s – surprise! – US history. Again. This makes me cranky.
I am not a history buff. I am, however, a believer in a solid education, and I think our educational system should be turning out more students who are fired up about history.
I remember my history education as a blur of repetitive American history. Coumbus blah blah American Revolution blah Lewis and Clark blah blah Civil War blah blah Industrial Revolution blah World Wars then, well, the school year was over. (They didn’t want to tackle the tricky Vietnam and Cold War.) All the schools ever seemed to teach was the same tired stuff, year after year, and what they required from us students was rote memorization of dates, battles, places, and presidents. “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”
I had only one class that stood out, a contemporary world problems seminar, where we read newspapers, debated current events and talked about issues as they unfolded through the eyes of the everyday citizen. It was the only class that engaged us on every level.
It’s no wonder that our American system turns out so few history geeks. We teach it as a dead field of study, we teach only dead facts and figures, and we skew it so heavily toward our own history that it distorts our young people’s view of the world around us.
Ethnocentrism is the tendency to look at the world primarily from the perspective of one’s own culture. It often entails the belief that one’s own race or ethnic group is the most important and/or that some or all aspects of its culture are superior to those of other groups.
I did a survey of Washington state’s educational standards, and here’s an oversimplified summary of the 12-year history curriculum:
1st grade – none
2nd grade – none
3rd grade – US history
4th grade – state and US history
5th grade – US history
6th grade – world history
7th grade – state and US history
8th grade – US history
9th grade – US history
10th grade – modern world history
11th grade – US history
12th grade – Contemporary world problems or other social science (elective)
That’s 7 years of US history, 2 years of world history, and one social science elective. Pardon me, but is the last 500 years of one country’s history on one continent proportionally – 7:2 – so critical? Are we Americans really so special that we need to review the American Revolution and Lewis and Clark seven times in seven years, cover multiple milennia of Chinese history once for three weeks in sixth grade, and never touch on modern Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian history at all?
History could be so much more compelling to students if we taught about the people behind the dates, places & battles, their stories, hopes & dreams. We need to cover the ideas and philosophies that were flashpoints for historical change, and why, in the context of their times and culture, they drove people to such passionate measures. We need to not be so afraid of religion, in the historical and comparative context, in schools, religion was and continues to be a significant impetus for conflict and political change.
I’ve often been told that the reason we study history is so that we will learn from our mistakes.
Is quisnam does non perceptum ex history est fatum ut revolvo is.
He who does not learn from history is destined to repeat it.