Posted by: Magistra | September 9, 2006

I Want to Eat My Cake!

Something that came up in class today pretty much summarized my troubles with trying to teach the amount of history required in high school. There’s just so much, so of course you can’t cover everything, but how do you chose what to leave out? How do protect yourself and your students from missing storylines?

For example, the professor today shared a project he created about conflicts in the 20th century. This was in a US History class, so I think it’s fair to assume that everyone knows we’re not talking about all armed conflict in the 20th century, just armed conflict that involved the US. Here was his list: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, “and incursions in Haiti and other places.” Clearly, he is actually talking about armed conflict where the US mobilized US troops. But he never said that out loud, nor was it on the copy of the unit description he used to give to his students and today shared with us.

Now, I could critique his list for leaving out Somalia, Rwanda, and Bosnia/Kosovo/Serbia (although, to be fair, these events might not have happened the last time he taught this project). But that doesn’t bother me as much as the whole category of conflict he left out: conflicts where the US supported one side, both with arms, other supplies and “military advisors”, but stopped short of sending troops. Afghanistan comes to mind because it’s in the news again, but what about the African civil wars the Soviets and Americans muddled in?

All I know about Angola is that sometime in the 1970’s (I think) American supported armed groups fought Soviet and Cuban aided groups (maybe there were even Cuban troops involved?). I don’t know who won or who lost (other than the Angolan people, presumably), or who were the rebels and who were the government. But I know the Cold War wasn’t always cold. As a teacher, this professor obviously chose not to include this sort of conflict. But isn’t this an important part of understanding the Cold War? And understanding why US action abroad isn’t always seen as a universal force for good?

Now, this professor might have responded by asking, is it in the standards? He’s big on pointing out that the job we’re signing up for (assuming we teach in public schools in CA) is to teach the CA standards. And I certainly recognize the importance of understanding the contract you’re making, and living up to it. And no, the “hot” wars supported by the USA and USSR aren’t in the standards. But he also likes to talk about how the standards are the minimal requirements.

I guess my point is that I’m worried about calling myself a history teacher when I know I’m going to overlook storylines, but I feel like I have to if I’m going to actually have a job teaching. And I also feel like if any history teachers are reading this, they’re chuckling about youthful idealism right about now.

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