A History Teacher – Part 2

When I started teaching world history seven years ago my course was anything but a world history class. Western Civilization dominated the curriculum. The only time I talked about Africa or Asia was in the context of European imperialism. This was partly due to the teachers I was drawing from, part from my own education, and part from the California world history standards. To be honest I never really thought much about it. After all, when I was in high school I only learned about Western Civ and we only got to the early 1800’s. Now I was bringing my students through World War I, World War II, and the Cold War. I was giving them understanding of the modern world – something I had to learn in college.

I did attempt to give the other perspective at times. For a few years I had the students read Things Fall Apart – a great book about Nigeria on the eve of colonialism. Many of the students enjoyed it, I loved it. Eventually I cut it from the regular world history when I started teaching humanities.

It finally clicked while I was putting together my curriculum for a small publishing company. When I was finished I had to align it to the state standards of Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey. Some of the other states actually had a world world history class. In order to make my course more marketable, the publisher asked me to expand the curriculum materials to include a more worldview. For the next two years I read fiction and non-fiction about Africa, Asia, and Latin America. As a result, I found a new passion for history. One that looked at the bigger picture of the world, one that examined how different cultures have interacted and how those interactions have changed the world around them.

While still not exactly where I want it, my world history curriculum is now more reflective of a real world history – despite the standards. I republished the original curriculum as Western Civilization and the changed curriculum was published as Modern World History.

With the start of the upcoming school year, I will be teaching AP World History. This is a break from the traditional sophomore AP history class, European History. When I began considering taking on an AP class I realized that I no longer was interested in AP United States History and I was never interested in AP Euro. Econ and government are not even on my radar. Then a friend started talking up AP World. When I looked into it, I realized it was perfect, it fit my new view of history. Luckily my school and department chair were very supportive of the change.

One veteran AP Euro teacher condemned my selection by arguing that AP World was the most politically correct course that focuses too much time on topics like African tribalism while glossing over key European events like the Renaissance and Reformation. I responded that this class is important because of the current state of the world. We have young men and women fighting in two places that have ties to ancient civilization, the spread of Islam, and modern tensions. China is rising and will be our next major rival. Shouldn’t our students, especially our most advanced students, learn about these places? Do they really need more Europe? Plus, it’s not like I won’t teach the Renaissance and Reformation, I just won’t spend a month on them and I will tie them into the events that were occurring in the rest of the world.

As this course takes shape I will no doubt have more to reflect on…

5 thoughts on “A History Teacher – Part 2”

  1. Thanks for reminding me of Things Fall Apart, Dan. A terrific book. It was required reading when I was in Peace Corps training in Sierra Leone where we could witness firat hand the same transition from traditional culture to something else. I also remember loving “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”, by a Ghanaian, I think.

    I agree that it’s more important than ever that kids get a global perspective, not just the Euro-American one. If they have access to the web at home, they’ve got access to all kinds of in depth information about other cultures and their histories, but they have no hooks to hang it on unless they get that in school. What they get from popular culture in terms of advanced organizers is still at the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby road movie levels.

    When I was a kid I had two hobbies that gave me an early start on being interested in the world: stamp collecting and short wave radio listening. I failed completely in getting my own personal kid interested in these and I think just about no one of his generation does them. It would be great to see some kind of web-based version of both hobbies to hook the millenials.

    Maybe listening to podcasts (and snatching mp3s) from Asia and Africa will become The Next Big Thing, leading to a huge increase in interest in learning more about the world and the dawn of a brighter day.

    Or not. More likely the next big thing will be kids making prank phone calls (another of my childhood hobbies) and sharing them as pod casts.

    Sounds like your new course will be great!

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  2. I’ve changed my course this year to shorten many of the subjects like the Renaissance. Yes, it’s important, so I’ll give it some time, but there are some other things I want to also teach.

    For instance, how about genocide in Sudan? And, as you mention, Iraq and Afghanistan?

    Good luck with your AP class. I hope to pick that up someday.

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  3. Speaking of China and their varied history, if you get a chance, pick up a read over a copy of “1421, The year China Discovered America” by Gavin Menzies. There is also a two hour video available about it. I am finding it very interesting reading and a great link to some major world history events.

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  4. I have 1421, but haven’t read it yet. Within the AP World History sphere it seems to be a good example of how you can manipulate history to fit your argument. His arguments appear to be most circumstancial and not based upon the historical record. The author has been questioned at world history events and has seemed to avoid all direct questions about his evidence. He claims it will be in his next book or on his web site.

    All of this is second hand, but from a source I trust and respect as a historian and teacher.

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  5. Although not a History teacher, my subject overlaps in many ways (Esp. English Lit. aspect), I agree that it is important that Americans know more about world history. I teach in England and students do not have a clue about their own history or culture, which is frustating when you have to give a brief synopsis of a certain period in history before you can actually teach a text. As to their knowledge of the rest of world’s history that is completely non-existent.

    In view of England’s (Britain’s?) colonial history and the post-colonial ramifications which are still effecting millions globally, this need to understand the world now and the historical debris which lead us here is extremely important.

    The above, I feel, now also applies to Americans.

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