Expanding horizons: broader perspective, broader understanding

Lily Seckendorf

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Going into 11th grade, I was overwhelmed by the numerous options of history classes. Junior year was the first time in my life that I could choose from an array of regions, time periods, and themes to focus on. Before filling out the course selections sheet, I explored the curriculum booklet and looked back on my past experiences as a history student. Upon reflecting, I found that my previous history courses had been largely focused on United States and European history. By the age of 16, I had only a shallow knowledge of Asian, African, and Latin American histories, but I had taken approximately six US or European-themed history courses over the past nine years. While I understand that it is impossible to cover the history of every area in the world, I think we can still do better to cultivate a better-rounded learning experience in our classrooms.

I don’t mean to undermine the current curriculum; I think it’s crucial to have an extensive understanding of the region in which you live. However, by allotting less time to the study of other parts of the world, I worry that the school does not encourage students to understand the complexities of the world. My previous lack of education regarding different time periods and regions allowed these gaps in knowledge to be filled with assumptions and generalizations. I did not fully realize what I was missing until this year when I decided to take AP World History, in hopes of beginning to replace those cloudy ideas with concrete information. 

AP World History is categorized as a sample course, meaning it covers the overview of events instead of focusing in on the details in order to cover a broader curriculum. I generally prefer more specific history courses; however, I feel that this structure was necessary to cover the timespan of history that I had not yet learned. A whole year’s curriculum could have been dedicated to many of the topics in AP World, such as the Inca Empire, that we instead covered in a single day of class.

As our class studied a range of events across different geographies and time periods, we found unexpected patterns and commonalities, but also long-term differences that shaped the identities of different societies. We were able to see small-scale events within the backdrop of the larger world’s circumstances and make meaningful connections about causation and the interconnection of different societies and their histories. We used our textbook like the zoom tool on Google Maps; you can focus in and see the streetlife of a particular city, but then zoom out and take in the perspective of the full globe again. In class we studied topics like the Agricultural Revolution, the migration of humans across Earth, early empires throughout Afro-Eurasia, and the development of classical empires in Rome, Greece and China, just to name a few, little of which I had learned in earlier history classes. We studied the Aztecs, Incas, and other vast empires of Latin America that thrived before the arrival of European colonists. I was able to see the extensive history of different regions and in doing so learned that many of the instabilities and conflicts present today originated from the burden of colonization and/or foreign imposition coupled with the often tumultuous process of decolonization. I can confidently say that Dr. Bales’ AP World class has changed the way I see the world.

I urge rising Junior and Senior students to try and take an array of history courses about regions, time periods, and concepts with which they are less familiar. I also encourage Horace Mann to teach a more diverse history curriculum in the years leading up to 11th grade, so that no matter what electives students choose to take in the Junior and Senior years, they will still be well-informed about a diverse group of regions and timespans. Learning about new places, events, and groups of people is not only liberating but also useful in life. I hope more students will push themselves to study unfamiliar topics and gain a positive experience expanding their knowledge of our history and making new connections between our life and the world around us. Just as Horace Mann students are required to explore a variety of different subjects in their years here (for example, you must take Biology and Chemistry even if you do not plan on becoming a scientist), it is useful for students to learn about a variety of regions and time periods in history in order to have a more well-rounded understanding of the world. Our school can contribute to shaping the next generation of leaders as insightful and compassionate individuals, beginning with a more aware and well-informed student body.