The lecture tonight touched on the very important question and idea about history. In the United States, we learn a very little selection of history of the world. We are not taught the vast amount of history around the world. Most prominently the history of countries that are outside of Europe seems to rarely be taught in the United States. Today’s lecture only highlighted how bad the problem is still today. While only a senior at Colby, I strongly believe that high school education could not have changed that much since my time.
In my four years of high school I took three types of history classes. The first was western civilization. This centered around the idea of the European development from the Greeks all the way to modern Europe as it is today. A very interesting class, but it was my only type of foreign history class in my three years of high school. Going to a private school in Vermont I can not say if this normal for most public schools to not experience more foreign history. My next two classes were as follows, an intense learning of US history from 1600s to early 20th century followed by a more intense US foreign policy from 1880s through present day. While the two US history classes did touch upon some foreign countries the learning of foreign history outside of Europe did not happen. In the second class we mostly learned about US government interactions with countries. Oddly enough nothing was mentioned about the US governments involvement in Haiti for retributions on loans given out.
I do not know why the problem is so bad. I believe that there could be two different reasons for this explanation. The first is that trying to learn about so many countries would be impossible. I believe this to be very true. It would be very hard to be taught about all the areas of the world. But how is it decided that Western Civilization or mostly European history is considered a worthy time to study. European history is important to the United States because of the connection from how the United States was started. There is a connection back to Europe. However not trying to include the rest of the world results in a lack of knowledge that was shown tonight from people’s shock about the age of revolution. How intertwined in that age is a small island being able to overthrow a large French government is not talked about. Along with this very often the French Revolution is talked about in some way. The reading of a Tale of Two Cities explores what is going on during the French Revolution and is commonly read for US high school Americans.
What should be taught to students? It is not a straight forward answer. Obviously, the history of the area that they are from should be taught. Along with that the where the country they are from was founded from. Beyond that trying to learn history is not straight forward. Even college professors specialize within an area.