Quick thought experiment:
- Close your eyes.
- Recount all the “world history” you can think of off the top of your head: events, historical figures, mythology, concepts, eras, or anything else that may be applicable.
- Now that you have those thoughts in your head, look at a world map.
- How many of the things you thought of took place in Europe?
If you are like most Americans, the vast majority of what you consider world history happened in one geographical location. Europe. This is not some mass coincidence. It is the result of years of miseducation. Our school system has been passing western civilization off as a comprehensive world history class for years, and it has to stop.
To understand why this has to end, you must first understand why the way many schools teach world history is problematic. Imagine that you live in Massachusetts. And for whatever reason, the US history course was consolidated into the Massachusetts history course. You would certainly learn a lot, as the state has a rich history, but you would learn it from a view in which your state was the center of the universe. Imagine learning about the American Revolution in such a class. The accomplishments and importance of Massachusetts Bay Colony would take precedence over everything. The contributions of all the other colonies would be overlooked.
This is where we are with world history classes.
Most K-12 students are peddled a western-centric version of history. The setting for the entire class is Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. The rest of the world only matters in the way it relates to Europe or as they are “discovered” by Europeans. If our current world history classes were reduced to narrative form, the story would feature European countries and America as the main cast and the rest of the world as colorful reoccurring characters that drop by after which hilarity ensues.
There are a ton of reasons for this disparity.
The first is obviously race. For most of this history we are talking about, westerners saw themselves as superior to other groups. How much of that is still around today is obviously up for debate, but the relic of that idea remains strong in our curriculum.
The second is geopolitical conflict. Western civilization as a study in K-12 schools grew out of a desire to distinguish western ideals from the “dangerous” and intrusive ideas of the East. It could be argued that western civilization as a class started as a form of propaganda during war. Western civilization did not unintentionally present the west as superior to the rest of the world … that was purposely the point. Now consider the fact that most schools have turned that class into their “world history” class.
Finally, it is just easier to teach that way. Teachers are like anyone else. They don’t like change, and they don’t want a bunch of extra work. It is much easier to use the same textbooks and materials we have been using for years. It is harder to go out and put together an actual representative world history curriculum, especially considering it probably is not what they were taught themselves.
Some critics of this argument like to point out that many other parts of the world didn’t have a written language, records, or the other hallmarks of civilization that would enable us to study them the same way. This is partly true, but it’s not universally true. It certainly doesn’t explain the disparity we see. The Ancient Chinese kept written records, but they don’t become relevant in many history classes until Europeans wanted silk. Mesoamerican civilizations like the Maya and Aztecs had written language, but most of the history we learn about them is post-Columbian.
This isn’t to say that western civilization is unimportant. Western civilization is the foundation for America. It makes sense to teach it. Western civilization has also extremely been influential — a lot of which was by force — but influential none the less. The problem with western civilization isn’t that it is taught, it’s that it’s not labeled correctly; it’s consolidated into broader classes at the expense of other people’s history, and that isn’t right.
- Name an ancient deity that isn’t Greek, Roman, or Norse.
- What civilization had the largest land empire ever?
- Who is the richest man in history?
- Name a civilization that had no contact with Europeans in antiquity or the middle ages.
If you struggled with these questions, then you are a victim of our strict adherence of Western civilization as world history … but you can do something about it. Don’t let the youth of tomorrow be ignorant of the rest of the world’s contribution to humanity. Speak up about changing the curriculum.