History is being taught wrong. All over the country, children are growing up with skewed ideas about our world, and misperceptions about their place in it. In my opinion, history is the absolute most important subject for people to learn and grasp. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to know why and how they exist the world that they do. Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs to know how to approach the future, how to vote, how to be a global citizen. If we fail our children in their historical knowledge, we fail an entire generation, and place countless children in a world that they do not understand.
1. Steer away from the specifics (at least at the beginning).
As a child learning history, I remember an intense focus on dates, people, and places. This mode of instruction doesn't really serve us well in the long run. Let's instead start with big ideas. Let's teach children about eras, ideas, and time periods in history. For example, learning about FDR is great. But, wouldn't it be better if we understood the Great Depression era, it's causes and effects, and then introduced FDR later? In this model, children learn to grasp different time periods in our world and what they consisted of. Then, when specifics are introduced at an older age, they can easily fit the person, place, or date into an era they are already familiar with. It's incredibly confusing and disorienting to think that something small is the entirety of an idea, and then suddenly have to zoom out and re-adjust that specificity into new facts. What if instead, we zoomed in and allowed our students to feel confident about their intellect?
For three years I believed that the entirety of the Cold War was the Cuban missile crisis. I had no idea what communism or capitalism was. I had no idea what a bipolar power balance was. I had no idea that the USSR wasn't the same thing as modern-day Russia. I didn't understand why a few missiles being shipped to Cuba was impactful in any way. In this lies the flaws of our system. When we inform about dates, people, places, and other specifics, students lose interest. They can't see how these tiny details have any impact on their world. If we reverse the way we teach, we can also reverse the stereotype that history is boring and confusing.
2. Teach the world.
Today our history is taught from an American point of view. We learn about our own history, and it is often glorified, we learn about Europe, because that's where we came from, and that seems to be the extent of it. But, in fact, we are not at all alone in the world. So, when we teach in a way that makes Africa, Asia, and South America seem completely and wholly separate from us, we fail to inform students how the rest of the world affects us, and how we affect it.
World History should be taught long before American history. Additionally, by failing to include other cultures in our learning, we fail to teach children that these "other" people are the same as us. We are all affected by the same systems, we all have intertwined histories, we are all part of the world as one community. Our America-first historical teaching has to end, or we threaten the importance of our world system.
3. Minorities matter
Due to the nature of our system, minorities are often left in the backgrounds of history. Not only are their contributions to society shadowed, but they are also portrayed as only victims. Let's teach about racism, sexism, homophobia, and explain why these prejudices create an inaccurate view of history. Let's make children aware of the bad parts of the world early on, so that they can grow up recognizing discrimination as bad, and not as normal. I understand that children can't and shouldn't be exposed to darkness and trauma too young. But, if we frame these prejudices as opinions, and discuss them lightly, our students will be more aware global citizens. Additionally, failing to talk about these issues early on for the sake of "protecting" children, ignores the fact that many children are already experiencing prejudice. Young minorities aren't being protected, so why should we protect privileged children from things that their peers are already going through? In fact, we actually save a lot of future suffering if we let children know right from wrong early on.
Sexism, racism, and homophobia are not something children should be learning about through experience. If we allow our kids to be educated, aware, and alert, we salvage a lot of young students from trauma, bullying, and ridicule. I think we can all agree that this is much more important than not mentioning the word "slavery" until the fifth grade. We don't have to include grisly details, we can soften the blow. We don't want children to think the world is a bad place, but we do want them to know that there are bad parts of the world so that they can combat those bad parts, and create more abundant good parts of our world.
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History is nothing short of the total and full explanation of the world up until the present. It informs why and how people lived, and, in turn, why and how we should live. You don't have to be a Congressperson for history to matter in your life. You may not care about history, but your politicians do, your bosses do, your landlords do, and the list goes on. If you don't care then you will be taken advantage of, cheated, and lied to for the rest of your life. If you don't care you will fall behind. You don't have to think history is interesting, but you have to know it is important. No one likes paying taxes, or going to the dentist, or taking their medication, but if you don't you know that there will be severe consequences. Knowing history is just the same. If we want our children to be able to make it in this world, they have to understand the world that shaped them.