I taught an amazing group of upper level high school students in a World History class during the 2019-2020 school year. It was a great class, and I came away with a deep understanding of the scope of human history and the amazing achievements of humans over time. It was such a fun class, but I was not in love with the class. I decided to let it sit, and see what percolated.
I knew that I wanted to deal with what I call "big themes," rather than memorization of dates, places, and people. For me, the significance of studying history isn't about trivia-style regurgitation. It's about answering the big questions, and using those answers to find our place, as modern humans, in the picture.
This led me to looking into what historians feel are the major questions asked over and over by humans in different places, different eras, different circumstances. There is a growing number of courses dedicated to examination of history through this lens of big questions. I was lucky enough to find some online resources, and even a published book, written by history teachers who have used this approach with reports of great success. The more I read and researched, the more certain I became that this was how I wanted to help students approach world history.
I believe I have created a class that I believe will do exactly that. Students will begin by considering why it is we study history at all. Then, we will examine one of the most essential questions that humans have asked, over and over: what is the relationship between those in power, and those not in power? To examine that question, we will start by looking at the way that different governments have operated. For example, who wielded power in ancient Rome? Who was Suryavarman and what sort of relationship did he have with the people of the Khmer Empire? How did Igbo women command respect?
By looking at how those societies, and others, have answered those questions, we will be able to see how different approaches succeeded or failed, and how approaches differed based on geography, belief systems, and time. This facilitates deep thinking, encourages intellectual curiosity, develops literacy skills, and allows a student to connect the past to their own lives. We won't abandon sequential history altogether, however. Students will create their own, online, timeline so that they can easily visualize historical developments over time.
Other major themes to be considered include the following:
- What defines civilization?
- How have humans provided for their basic needs? How have they thrived?
- What role have belief systems played throughout history?
- What are the roles of men and women in society?
- How have humans brought about social and political change?
- What have humans found to be worth fighting for?
- What are the patterns we have seen through history?
I will offer the class in person, and online, though exact days of the week and times are still in the works. I'm excited to get it all pinned down, and to welcome a wonderful new group of high school students in the fall.