Westernized education could be blinding

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I think constantly about the extent to which our existence as a Western nation influences what we learn about history and how we learn it.

For instance, why is it that at some point, as The College Board was creating the list of AP history classes available for students to take in high school, they included AP United States History, AP European History, and agglomerated the rest of the world into AP World History? But I think this question goes beyond AP classes.

Part of me recognizes the logistical and financial complications of having so many different types of curriculums available. Another part of me knows that as people living in America, we have a specific responsibility to understand the history of our nation.

In this way, I think emphasis of the nuance and progression of America’s history is vital to our navigation through the present and future.

However, I can’t help but grapple with the prospect that overemphasis of history through this westernized—and very often, white—narrative creates blinders. It’s not that I think this history is entirely illegitimate, but that I recognize the influence that understanding a story from the perspective of one character can have on our interpretation of what happens (thanks Benito Cereno).

In a similar sense, America’s history isn’t isolated from the rest of the world. My APUSH class this year has made it evident that American history and the histories of other places around the world are deeply intertwined, woven together in an interdependent random muddle always subject to interpretation and up for debate.

In that way, though it’s debatable as to whether it’s possible to even truly fathom what happens and what it means, I believe that the way to come closest to making sense of it all is through exposure to as many perspectives as possible.

The effectiveness of how New Trier handles this question is up for debate and not really what I’m attempting to evaluate. Considering the range of classes and experiences, this would be really difficult and would require a much more in depth study.

Clearly my education had to have done something right in order for me to be conscious of this in the first place. But I can’t overlook the discomfort I’ve felt in the past over the fact that I’ve only ever really learned about Africa through the context of colonialism. I can tell you that the Mali, Songhai, and Ghana Empires existed, but what is confusing for me is the extent to which this is severely outweighed by the exposure and knowledge I have of European and Western history.

I feel this way also about how the majority of what I’ve learned about Latin America is either through the lense of exploitative American policy and intervention or European colonization. And I understand that a lot of these histories are comparably less documented and seemingly less palatable to students, but I also don’t think that this outweighs the extent of the lack of discussion about these histories.

And I understand that it’s not necessarily one person or institution I’m writing about, but a cultural attitude of which this is a symptom. At the end of the day, what I really care about is how this is juxtaposed with America’s position in the world—or at least Americans’ perception of this position.

It isn’t uncommon for our foreign policy to be driven by a sense of responsibility and desire to exercise power in different parts of the world, driving us to intervene and involve ourselves in various conflicts throughout the world.

For me what is truly significant about this question is that if this is how we want to continue operating our foreign policy, then I see it as an imperative that Americans understand the history of the places in which we seek to intervene, because it is this lack of understanding that can, and has, resulted in disastrous foreign policy throughout history.

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