Cramming the world into a classroom

March 07, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Imagine an 8-foot-long timeline of world history.

U.S. history amounts to approximately 2 inches of that timeline, said Charles Holder, a world history teacher at Williamsport High School.

With 193 countries in the world, it would be tough for teachers to cover every nation in world history class.

Historically, world history has had a Eurocentric focus because the United States' roots are in Europe, Tri-State educators said.

At least in Washington County Public Schools, that focus has gradually changed over several years to incorporate a world view, according to Holder and Clyde Harrell, supervisor for secondary social studies.

Holder, who has taught world history for 39 years, said he thinks the coverage of world history is "exactly where it needs to be now."


Holder didn't wait for world history textbooks to change to teach his students about parts of the world textbooks usually didn't spend a lot of pages on, he said.

Holder said he started introducing students to a more global view of history because of what he was taught at Frostburg State University. There is more to Africa than the period of Imperialism and more to Chinese history than starting with the Opium War in 1839-42.

He said he noticed more of the world showing up in textbooks in the early 1980s.

"It's been a change, and more and more institutions of higher learning are stressing the global view because it is a global situation in which we're living," Holder said. "If you don't understand Islam and what's going on, you don't understand how it's affecting our nation."

When he was in high school and when he started teaching world history, there was a Eurocentric focus.

Now, he teaches his students about the various contributions made by other parts of the world, such as the contributions Muslims have made to civilization from 600 to 1100 in the areas of medicine, math and geography.

An instructor who is Hindu explained the influence of various empires and Hindu contributions, such as the Hindus being one of the civilizations to independently develop the concept of zero, Holder said.

When the course was Eurocentric, the textbook indicated nothing important happened in Africa until its people were victims of slavery and Imperialism and taught European values and morals, he said.

Now, there's a section on the ancient kingdoms of Africa, he said.

Harrell said there is more to the world than Europe and the United States. Trade and society are global, so students need to learn about people around the world, he said.

"We don't teach about every single country. We can't," Harrell said.

The curriculum still is changing.

Before last school year, sixth-graders learned about world cultures in the Western Hemisphere and seventh-graders learned about cultures in the Eastern Hemisphere, Harrell said.

Last school year, that changed so sixth-graders study world history and seventh-graders learn world cultures such as geography and how people live in different regions of the world, he said.

The change was made in part because not enough history was being taught in middle school, specifically world history, before students took world history in 10th grade, Harrell said.

Waynesboro (Pa.) Area High School social studies teacher Joe Mackley said more parts of the world are covered today with the world history class than with the world cultures class, but it tends to be from the viewpoint of Western or European society.

There are opportunities during Modern World History class for discussion about the Middle East and Iraq, the Taliban and Afghanistan, he said.

When the tsunami hit Southeast Asia, the class looked at that area on a map and talked about its impact and how people reacted, including the humanitarian response, Mackley said.

At Musselman High School in Berkeley County, W.Va., the Ancient World History class covers from approximately 5 million B.C. to 1900, social studies teacher James Valdesalice said. Lessons include Ancient Egypt, early China and India, ancient Greek civilization, the Roman Empire and the Islamic world, he said.

There is no World History II class at the school that covers modern world history, however, how some world events relate to the United States is taught during the second half of U.S. History II, he said.

Current world events also can be incorporated into his government class, perhaps as he draws connections between governments or a current event and that region's history, Valdesalice said.

"The only way to make the curriculum significant or mean something to students now is to show them the impact of the past on what's happening now," Valdesalice said.

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