History (class) Makes No Sense

Here is the thing. I went to school for my entire life in a school system with an American curriculum, set up in the standard American style. I studied the Pilgrims and Christopher Columbus (hopefully not as much of a focus these days) in early elementary school. Then in fourth grade I learned about Lewis & Clark, and their westward journey. In fifth grade, it was the American Revolution. After the big move to middle school, I took “social studies” classes on world cultures and ancient empires. In Eighth grade, it was American History again, this time including the Civil War. In high school, I took another ancient civilizations class, an American History class (still not going past the Civil War), a 1900-1990’s History of the World class, and an AP World History class.

But this is a problem: it wasn’t until I took university courses that I realized that something else happened in the world between 1776 and the 1860’s. Doesn’t that seem odd? Somehow I missed the colonization of Africa (and most of the rest of the world). Somehow I missed the Napoleonic wars. Somehow I missed the formation of Germany. All extremely important events that drastically influenced the sort of “modern” history course that is now being taught in high schools.

It gets worse, too. I know for certain that currently, most of the 1700s and 1800’s are currently not being taught in high schools–that is, unless it is the American 17 and 1800s. As if there is a difference between what happened then in the United States and Everywhere Else. As if the there was a line where all other history stopped except for the region just south of Canada, north of Mexico, and between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.


Why? Why is U.S. history taught as if it is somehow different to “World” history? In the international world we live in, this division makes little sense.

A more ideal method for teaching history in High School might be to cover the Renaissance and Enlightenment (that is about where Middle School social studies is supposed to finish), right the way through to 1900. That would be year one. Year two could be 1900 to present, a more focused view of the last 100 years than students currently get in Modern World History.

But wait! aren’t there standards? Guidelines? Some kind of mandate that makes history classes be the way they are?

Well, as it turns out, no. Not at all.

In Oregon, there are two sets of standards history teachers are responsible for: Common Core literacy standards, and the Oregon Social Sciences Academic Standards. The Common Core standards have nothing to do with the content of a course: they are concerned with literacy skills, not specific information to be taught. Oregon’s Social Sciences standards, on the other hand, do have some specific content. The standards are broken into Historical Knowledge, Historical Thinking, Geography, Civics & Government, Financial Literacy, Economics, and Social Science Analysis. Notice anything there? No US history standards, no world history standards…

There would be nothing from a standards point of view prohibiting combining the wrongfully divided sides of history taught in high school classrooms. And, I think, students would benefit by gaining a stronger sense of the world, a greater historical sense, if you will. It is something I am very interested in trying, if given the opportunity.

What do you think? Disagree? Think I am nuts? Let me know in the comments below.


2 responses to “History (class) Makes No Sense

  1. I totally agree with your assessment. That’s why I love the way Story of the World is laid out. Book 3 really gives you that middle section. It’s also why I like homeschooling (in Oregon.) Wink.

    For your purposes however, it seems a letter to your representative and your senator are in order. You can request a bill be drawn up in the legislature. Someone might actually take this on. Who knows?

    Keep doing what you are doing. Kids need you. ROCK ON!


    • Thanks for your thoughts! I think my real point is that there is no need to get all governmental. The standards don’t tell us to break our classes up the way we do, and they are the only mandate the state has really given, content-wise. That being the case, as long as we follow the standards, we can do what we want! As long as the school can get past the break with tradition, I see no legal barriers with this idea.


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