From Fri Sep 12 08:55:40 2003
Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2003 08:55:39 -0400
From: Haines Brown <>
Subject: Re: non eurocentric history

Non-eurocentric history

By Haines Brown, contribution to a dialog, 12 September 2003

> I am a mother who dislikes the typical american history curriculum
> that gets rammed down students throats for more of their
> impressionable years than I can stomach.

I found it hard to understand why K-12 teachers so rarely look critically at what they teach. Having had direct contact with the teacher training process over the years, I concluded that there is a fixation on process rather than content. I believe our teachers would do a lot better if they had fallen in love with their subject matter, and not just learned how to create a lesson plan. The heavy requirements for a major in elementary education tend to crowd out any depth for the subject matter that will be taught. So I don't expect change to come from that corner.

> Please tell me what resources I can access to turn the tide. I want
> my daughter to understand history from a world perspective rather
> than the western mentality of euro supremacy.

I really don't know. There are more “liberal” treatments of US history, such as that of Howard Zinn, but the history literature on the whole is very parochial. I've been out of teaching and historical research for some time, and am in no position to recommend anything. I think the problem is a deeper one than just reading the right books.

> I understand that lots of real history is probably in other
> languages but I have a friend that can translate French, German and
> Latin.

If your implication is that history books written in other (non-Western?) languages will be more cosmopolitan, my reaction is, again, negative. I've spent much time working with such literature, and on the whole it is no better than the western books, and sometimes worse. The reason is that many “third word” scholars were trained in a Western-influenced environment or employ a western standard of scholarly value. On the whole, non-western books are even more pedestrian and parochial.

Of course, there are exceptions in both cases, but the exceptions are not numerous or broad enough, or sufficiently accessible to make them a viable alternative.

I greatly regret being so negative. The more cosmopolitan treatments of history, including science history, are sufficiently scarce, inaccessible, and often not the greatest, that I've had no reason to compile lists.

However, the problem may not be one of simply finding the right books. People's mental development does not reduce to that, but depends on a variety of other and rather more subtle experiences. That is, parochialism might be more an effect of insecurity than ignorance.

Exposing the child to what's exotic (foreign travel, reading foreign novels, study of new and unusual subjects) should help, but I've concluded that its more what one does with them than assuming mere exposure will bring enlightenment. There's a deeper level of existence in which our contact with what is different from ourselves becomes a source of joy and instruction, of benefit, rather than of bewilderment and intimidation.

Besides seeking the right books, I'd make sure your daughter was engaged in social activities that entail positive social value so that she become more aware of the link between what's immediate and broader society. TV and the suburbs destroy brain function, and if as a result your daughter has limited contact with people of different income, race and class, I'd attend to that handicap right away.

I wish I had some good advice, but I suspect that the parochialism that is manifest in teaching is an effect of something different, not the subject matter itself, but has to do with how we relate to other people and thus our sense of self.