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Opinion: The World History curriculum should be expanded

Guest+writer+Yaniv+Goren+offers+a+perspective+into+the+balance+of+WHS%27+world+history+curriculum.
Guest writer Yaniv Goren offers a perspective into the balance of WHS' world history curriculum.

Guest writer Yaniv Goren offers a perspective into the balance of WHS' world history curriculum.

Guest writer Yaniv Goren offers a perspective into the balance of WHS' world history curriculum.

Yaniv Goren

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Why do we learn history? Even though this question is laminated and plastered on the front walls of many a middle school classroom, lots of us don’t really know the answer. Until very recently, I was one of those kids, too, but everything changed when I stepped into APUSH. For the first time in my life, I was immersed in a class that felt both high-level and applicable, that made me feel like the study of our forefathers had some grand purpose, one beyond the ability to consistently win family trivia: understanding our society better so that we may do good unto others. But why did this epiphany come so late?

The answer is that nothing before United States history felt relatable. As masterfully as Wayland High School’s curriculum familiarizes us with such staples of Western history as the Industrial Revolution and the Cold War, it brushes over everything else so quickly that we barely have time to register its importance. By the time I graduate, I’ll have taken three years of courses about the United States, supplanted with one year of 20th Century World Studies, a course where I spent one semester learning about Europe, and the other about the rest of the world. In other words, during my 40-some-odd months of secondary education, I’ve spent 4 months on Asia, South America, Africa, and Australia combined: that’s 1/8th of history class spent on about 6/7ths of the world’s population.

Moreover, the meager weeks spent careening through Mao Zedong and the Iranian Revolution are the epitome of Eurocentric, which makes it difficult for kids to understand international politics with any semblance of novelty. For example, teachers touch upon the history of India in World Studies, but we start in 1600, with the establishment of the British East India Company, and end in 1947, with the demise of the British Raj. You would think, based on this timeframe, that India lost its relevance as soon as it exited the European sphere of influence. We parse African history, Middle Eastern history, and Australian history in a similarly imperialist way, beginning and ending with colonialism as if being momentarily a part of European mercantilism is the end-all-be-all of any country.

Then, where the curriculum manages to diverge from the imperialist narrative, students are fed cherry-picked over-simplifications that reinforce the rectitude of American actions. Exceptions exist: my clearest recollections of Dr. Halpin’s World Studies class include masterful coverage of Iran and in-depth analysis of Australian history from Aboriginal perspectives. But collectively, our attitudes regarding foreign issues, many of which verge on xenophobia, are proof that something crucial isn’t happening at Wayland.

Fortunately, this problem isn’t difficult to fix. Wayland already offers manifold electives, so why not extend course offerings to include such classes as Contemporary South Africa or Trends in Eastern Philosophy? Furthermore, the history department could codify international history within Wayland’s culture of academic rigor by certifying one or two teachers to teach AP World History, which would acquaint students with some of the world’s greatest non-European empires, and AP Comparative Government, which would introduce students to civics in countries like Mexico, Nigeria, Iran, and China, among others. These resources would not go un-utilized — Wayland students are hungry for a challenge.

Teachers can also expand the history curriculum by tweaking existing classes to be more inclusive. For instance, instead of telling students about the causes of World War I for the ninth time, World Studies teachers can spend an additional week discussing Mexico’s political spectrum, Africa’s growing population centers or religious diversity in India. They can also talk about technological advancement in Hong Kong, the late Zulu Kingdom, or even the Ottoman Empire. Yes, there’s a lot to cover in our vast, vast world – but getting to at least some of it goes a long way in repairing what is Wayland High School’s stark lack of globalism.

There is a world of benefits that students studying international history can reap. For one, an increasingly interconnected and globalized world means that students who are versed in the histories and cultures of countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China, among countless others, will have a competitive edge in nearly every sector: According to a recent Forbes article published by the Young Entrepreneurs Council, prerequisite to involvement in today’s international market is extensive knowledge of foreign cultures and histories. What’s more, a greater wealth of perspectives and resources to draw from can undoubtedly bring Waylanders greater success in almost any pursuit. That much clear is the fact that much of the math and science we learn today was not discovered in the United States. And beyond the dolla dolla bills, there’s a moral imperative to learning about the lives of those different from us: fostering a sense of respect for the people that Western society has spent the last several centuries subjugating.

We spend most of our young lives in school, and for good reason: School equips us with the tools we need to go out into the world and make lives better. To do good unto others. But in this case, learning about our country is only half the journey; the other awaits as soon as we broaden our horizons and go international.

Opinion articles written by staff members represent their personal views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent WSPN as a publication.

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Opinion: The World History curriculum should be expanded