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Eurocentrism in Education

Why we should try to overcome Eurocentric views in U.S. schools

Why we should try to overcome Eurocentric views in U.S. schools

--In his 2003 article, "Measuring achievement: the West and the rest", Charles Murray argued that in western civilizations there has been far more "accomplishment both in the arts and sciences" (Murray 1) than in other areas of the world, and he says that for this reason Eurocentrism is somewhat justified. However, proportionality of achievement aside, there are important reasons to consider many cultures in secondary school education. Students should have the opportunity to learn how people of different cultures view the world, and why they see it that way, regardless of how much art or science these cultures have produced as a result of that worldview. After all, people themselves should be considered at least as important as the discoveries made in any country.

--We should be learning about how the whole world has evolved to become what it is today-- not just about how Western Europe and America evolved to become what they are today. By doing this, we can help people all over the U.S. to better understand the reasons behind conflicts throughout the world-- from fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in Israel to the genocide now in the Sudan.

--Focusing solely on the cultures of Western Europe in studying world history leaves students with little understanding of how other cultures evolved over thousands of years. This causes some people to make mistakes such as lumping all Asian countries together into a series of stereotypes and generalizations when in truth the people of China, Japan, Korea and other countries in that part of the world spent much of history fighting wars against each other.

--In his book, Revolutionary Multiculturalism: Pedagogies of Dissent for the New Millennium, Peter McLaren argues that multiculturalism and diversity in education will have little effect unless we can teach in a way that will not further enforce the idea that white people are superior to people of other ethnic groups. Simply diversifying different social groups will have little effect unless the idea of "white supremacy" is brought to an end.

--America is "the melting pot" of people from different cultures, and though the majority can trace their ancestry back to Western European countries, many have ancestors that came from Africa or Asia. They should also have the opportunity to learn about their heritage.

--Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, in his 2001 article "Eurocentrism and Its Discontents" published by the American Historical Association, says that he, like many historians, "take[s] for granted that Europe (and also America and later Japan) played a central role in shaping the modern world" (Wasserstrom 2). However, he also says that opponents of Eurocentrism "insist... that the rise of the West be treated as a contingent, not preordained phenomenon" (Wasserstrom 2).

--Wasserstrom also discusses how scholars who research strikes, to give his example, in countries other than those in Europe and the U.S. typically have to specify that they research this subject in one of these countries, whereas scholars who research strikes in Europe or America can introduce themselves "simply as 'labor historians'".

--Africa in the past and present is often overlooked; students may spend a week or so learning about what life would be like for someone taken from Africa to become a slave in the Americas, but beyond that we rarely focus much attention on African culture and history.

--Walter A. McDougall said in his 1999 address, "The Merits and Perils of Teaching About Other Cultures" published in The Newsletter of FPRI's Marvin Wachman Fund for International Education, that even when we do study the histories of other cultures we often consider them in terms of Western themes. For example, time is often devoted to "the struggles of... civilizations to come to grips with their backwardness, and adopt Western ways" (McDougall 2). When he was in college, McDougall says, students who did not take courses pertaining to specific non-Western cultures "were not exposed to true multicultural education" (McDougall 2).

--Many history courses almost completely overlook South America, leaving us with little to connect with the histories of this area than some vague remembrances of fourth grade projects on crumbling Native American empires. Even when we do learn about these areas, it is with a Western slant. As McDougall said of his education Cortes' conquest of Mexico, "whereas I remember a good deal about the Spanish side of this culture clash, literally all I remember about the Aztec side was their belief that a hummingbird-on-the-left was an omen of good luck-- or was it bad luck? Anyway, 'hummingbird-on-the-left' became a stock laugh line for Amherst students" (McDougall 2).

--Some argue that the majority of Americans have backgrounds from European countries, and this is a reason to learn more about Europe than about other areas of the world. However, doing this merely promotes cultural and racial stereotypes- we don't know why the people of other cultures think the way they do, since we have read little or none of their literature and do not know much about their history; we are therefore forced to build our opinions around generalizations and often minimal knowledge of a few historical figures from these given cultures. High school students could certainly connect India with Gandhi, China with Buddhism and Mongolia with Genghis Khan, but many would have trouble providing detailed information on these areas of the world.

--Even our knowledge of American history is fairly Eurocentric; we learn about most of our history from the point of view of European immigrants and their ancestors. For example, the reasons why so many people immigrated to this country from China were not the focus of much attention, despite that about 15,000 Chinese immigrants worked to build the transcontinental railroad (Building the Transcontinental Railroad).