By Kelsey Corley, Student Editor
A study conducted of high school student engagement by the Fordham Institute in 2016 found that the subject of history was widely chosen as the least interesting or least liked subject of the students polled, second only to math in some cases. Ask any average high school or college student their opinion of the field, and you will likely be met with the same descriptive word from different people: boring.
Looking at my personal experience of learning history in school, I can’t blame anyone with this view. I am unaware whether my education was the general Texas curriculum or a local phenomenon, but my school system had a very organized method for teaching history. First Texas history, then American history, then Texan, then American, and on and on in a neat little pattern.
Of course, every year, the classes became slightly more demanding in terms of expectations and added a few details to most people and events discussed, but that was the extent of the course. Understandably, after the third or fourth time students are forced to sit through a lesson on the Missouri Compromise or the Battle of San Jacinto, they will start to check out. In all of my years in this education system, I was required to take all of one World History class, which, ironically, I completed in a six-week summer term. To add insult to injury, the starting point for the course was the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, as if nothing of significance occurred before that time.
When the history of other countries is discussed in the American classroom, it is typically only of a select few countries. Consider your knowledge of Africa. You may have learned about certain parts of North Africa via lessons on the Roman Empire and may have even had brief discussions of Ancient Egypt.
Yet, textbooks follow the story of the Western portion of Rome as it fell to the invading Germanic tribes. Some mention of the Byzantines may be made in the footnotes, but Africa disappears from the discourse. An entire continent of people is forced on pause. When do they appear again in these textbooks? Only with the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
In the American classroom, world history is European history. Most students could recite the rhyme, “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” yet could not name a single Chinese Emperor. Even in discussions of intercontinental relations, such as the crusades, or the colonization of South America, it is almost exclusively explained the European perspective.
One might argue that this way of teaching is logical because European countries had and continue to have the most influence on our country and the world. I could counter that this country self-identifies as a ‘melting pot’ and has a significant population of people descended from all around the world. These people still have an influence and deserve to be recognized. This way of teaching only perpetuates a Eurocentric outlook.
We are born into an incredibly complex culture and society, and history is how we learn necessary context; it is how we know how the world came to be. We seek out education in institutions such as this because we are taught to ask questions to not just accept things for how they appear.
How is one to understand why we have two days off every week without studying the history of the labor movement? How can one know the restrictions in place due to Covid-19 without looking at the history of medicine and how we have failed so spectacularly in pandemics of the past? How is one to understand the current tensions between Russia, Ukraine, and the US, if one does not study the History of the Cold War?
Learning the history of one’s own country and the places and cultures that helped build its foundation is important, but it cannot come at the expense of understanding everything else. Without history, we cannot know how we came to be, and we leave out so much context by overlooking and excluding the history of more than half the world, in favor of relaying our own story over and over again. We shouldn’t wonder why students are bored.