Is It Possible to Teach World History in High School?
The other day I browsed through a tenth grade world history textbook. It was full of lush color. It offered many angles of entry into history — through the arts, politics, economics, law, social structure. It was completely even handed in covering all parts of the world in a fair, balanced, and apprectiative manner. It was filled with handy sidebars on how to take notes on the infomation, how to engage with what you were reading and derive meaning from it, how to "read" art for historical context, etc. In other words, poured into the covers of this book was the real learn of banks of professors who specialize both in the content areas and in education. And I cannot imagine anyone reading it, deriving pleasure from that, or coming to care, in the slightest, about world history.
Part of the problem is that a textbook just is not a book, it is a tool designed to make it easier for teachers to teach. It is a tool for learning, not a book to read. Fine. But is there any tool which can take kids with no or little context, introduce them to every civilization, every culture, every continent, every time period, and have it add up to anything? As I read it, I felt like I was experiencing an overwhelming assault that crushed me, not an invitation to learn, grow, care, engage. And so I wonder if part of the problem is the effort to teach world history at all.
In the old days, kids got western civ, with the idea that, grounded in one culture they could move on to others. This was hierarchical — Western Civ was us, we were better, we then could show missionary or charitable interest in others. Well we no longer have that hierarchical view — but then what grounding do kids have to surf on this tidal wave of information? I wonder if it would make more sense to make world history be an in depth view of any one culture — pick it out of a hat — tracing the real links that culture had with others, train kids in how to learn and know; then, at the end of the year, give them a hint of the riches and wonders of other times, places, and cultures. Dig deep, open minds, trust in curiosity for future courses. Or, divvy up the world, and, at the end of the years, spend a month having different classes meet, talk, compare and contrast, find connections.