With the spring semester just around the corner, students are busy looking through their course booklets with eager anticipation. There are so many opportunities to learn new and exciting things. For example, you can take a class on European history and learn about Columbus, Shakespeare, and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The information is endless; there is at least one different King Henry for every day of the week. Or imagine studying the American Revolution for a semester. Learn about the Continental Army and how they just couldn’t stand the religious and social repression in England. Study in depth how they fought with God on their side to win freedom in the New World (you have probably learned by now to ignore the next part where they went on to torture and excommunicate everyone who wasn’t a Puritan, enslave millions of Africans, and commit one of the largest mass-genocides that the world has ever known against Native Americans). Well, on second thought, maybe these things aren’t exactly new, and they certainly don’t seem very exciting.
Of course, we’ve all heard this argument before, but with a new semester coming, it seems pertinent to make it again. How many times do we have to learn about Europe before the school system decides that we know enough? When will it stop? Nearly every student who has gone to school in America for any length of time has had so many classes that focus on the Protestant Revolution, the Revolutionary War, George Washington, and the Cotton Gin that they know these things better than they know their own life stories. Students in America are mercilessly drilled in European history for their entire lives until they can spout out facts off the top of their heads about kings and queens that people living in England didn’t even know they had.
Yet in all of these years of schooling, who can name anything about African society before Europeans raped and pillaged their country? Who can name anything about Native American religion before Europeans forced them to convert to Christianity? Who is even aware that there is a group of people called the Amerindians who once populated the Caribbean islands until Europeans decimated their populations through slavery, persecution, and disease? The point is obvious: American students aren’t taught anything about the world. Our education is more than Euro-centric; it pretends that nothing else exists. It maintains the erroneous view that Europe (and America by proxy) was the center of all important cultural achievements. Sure the Chinese had movable type hundreds of years before, but that doesn’t stop our schools from teaching us that Gutenberg “invented” the printing press.
Granted, European history is important. After all, without it, America would not exist. However, in completely ignoring the achievements of other cultures, we are virtually erasing those achievements altogether. By exclusively teaching American society, politics, technological advancements, and religion, our school system is also implicitly teaching that other cultures were doing nothing while our country was progressing so quickly and this infuses students with a mindset that is not only wrong, but also dangerous.
To be fair, President Shalala and the University of Miami faculty are working to change the curriculum, and they have already taken huge steps to solve these problems. For this, they deserve our deepest thanks. But, we cannot ignore the fact that our school, and the American schooling system in general, needs to teach the truth about history. Europeans did have some tremendous ideas back then, but they weren’t the only ones with working brains.