Rethinking World History Courses

There's something rather absurd about teaching the history of the entire planet through all of time in a single course.  Still, that's what most states require (the exception being New York which requires two courses).  Look at the major world history textbooks and you get a sense of how this is accomplished:  primarily by ignoring most of the world and focusing on "western civilization".  Even that is further narrowed with emphasis on just four nations:  England, France, Germany and Italy.  There will be token chapters introducing Asia, Africa, Russia, the Middle East and Latin America also but count on 75% or more devoted to western Europe.

In today's world, our students need to understand China and India.  They need a grounding in Middle Eastern history, geography and religion.  Our ignorance about the non-western world has cost us dearly.  If more Americans understood the Middle East and Central Asia, would we be embroiled today in two seemingly unending wars, each of which has lasted longer than either of the World Wars?  Would the xenophobia that cripples our nation persist?

When I taught World History, I was required to use the state-approved textbook.  I restructured the class though to incorporate multiple perspectives of major world events, spending many hours seeking out appropriate supplemental resources.

Rather than a chronological approach to our world focused on just one region, I organized the course geographically, carefully selecting focus countries significant to world events.  I worked to ensure that all of the key "western Civilization" themes were covered:  the rise of civilization, feudalism, Renaissance, age of revolution, imperialism, industrialization and so on.  I dreamed that some day someone would create a text around a similar structure.  But with opposite pressures on textbook companies (see Pro-Islam Bias in Textbooks) from the too-influential Texas Board of Education, that isn't likely to happen soon.  Still, here's my plea in the dark for a more balanced approach, one that takes into account the reality that not all the world through all of time can be covered in 165 hours of instruction.

World History:  A Geographic Perspective
Note:  Each unit includes geographical and cultural information as well.

Unit One: China
Ancient civilizations, geography's impact on culture, feudalism, capitalism, and communism. scientific and political advancements, as well as early trade and impacts of Western powers would all be explored.
Unit Two:  Japan
Feudalism, the special case of island nations, social organization, warrior states, isolationism, opening to the West as well as modern wars would be covered.
Unit Three:  India
Ancient civilizations, world religions, invaders and empires, development, peaceful revolution and creating a democratic nation would fit here.
Unit Four:  Iran/Persia
The ancient world, development of modern religions, the impact of numerous empires including the Persian Empire, relations with Russia and the West, independence, militarism and the modern Middle East.
Unit Five:  Poland
Includes Catholicism and centuries of conflict between Prussia/Germany and Russia as Poland had the unfortunate fate of being the flat place between two mighty powers.  Studying Poland is a third-party look at German and Russian history.  Also includes Judaism, Christianity and the Holocaust, communist rule, perestroika.
Unit Six:  France
Includes Roman Empire, medieval period, European monarchies, Reformation, Renaissance, conflicts with England, French Revolution, Napoleonic wars, age of enlightenment, imperialism, World Wars I and II, issues of migration and immigration, modern France
Unit Seven: Mexico
Includes ancient civilizations, the explorers, Spanish conquest and colonial rule, decimation of native peoples, revolutionary periods, Texas and the war with the United States, French rule, political and economic structures, relations with the US, modern Mexico
Unit Eight:  Argentina
Includes native peoples, early European explorers, colonial Spanish rule, rise of maritime power and ranching, war of independence, civil war, wealth and power, progressives and socialist reforms, World War II, Peron and inflation, revolution and instability, immigration, modern Argentina
Unit Nine:  West Africa
Includes ancient civilization, relations with Mediterranean civilizations, culture and learning, tribal societies, empires, Islam and jihad, the slave trade, colonialism, struggles for independence, dictatorships and corruption, economic dependence, international trade and development efforts, musical heritage
 Approximately one month could be devoted to each unit, though some may require slightly more, others slightly less.  Even with that (less than 20 hours per nation), not everything can be covered.  However, by the end of the course, students should have a better grasp of their world than they would get from the traditional western civilization approach.  Henry VIII might not receive the attention he would expect but the world's peoples would be better represented.

Now the confession.  In all the years I taught with this structure, I rarely made it past Unit Seven.  The year simply ran out before I'd covered even these 9 places.