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…