This year, I’m leading an ancient history class along with the art class. It’s been an interesting and slightly frustrating endeavor, mainly because I couldn’t find a good, basic course that fit our needs. Story of my homeschool life right there.
Sure, I can find a ton of things with the big 4 – ancient Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, the Greeks, and the Romans. If I’m lucky there might be a mention here and there about the Indus Valley Civilization or the ancient Chinese, but it’s usually pretty limited.
What about everyone else?
It’s like the rest of the world didn’t even exist. The Olmec, the Maya, the Nubians, the ancient Japanese, the Persians, Phoenicians, and so on – barely even a mention. It’s further complicated by the strict definitions of what constitutes a civilization. Did the civilization develop cities, religion, writing, art, government, and social structure? Did they trade with other cultures and store surplus food? More importantly, do we have written proof of these advancements?
The problem with this approach is that it basically breaks down the defining characteristics of the big 4 and uses them as the yardstick for measuring any other civilization. What about civilizations who built huge cities, had massive government organization, art, and religion, but did not leave evidence of writing? What about cultures with a rich oral language tradition? Do we eliminate them as not qualifying? Apparently we do, judging by most elementary history curriculums.
The Eurocentric problem
History books are overwhelmingly Eurocentric – to the point that some of the history books that I’ve seen actually portray the ancient Egyptians as Caucasian. Which is ridiculous, because if you look at the contemporary population of Egypt (genetic studies say the modern Egyptians are pretty much the same as the ancient ones) they’re neither white or black. They’re people of color – caught somewhere in the middle of pale and dark. They are uniquely Egyptian, both then and now.
As much as I love the Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World we’ve been reading for our resources, I have to admit I’m disappointed. Fully half of the book is devoted to the Greeks and Romans. It barely mentions the ancient Indians, completely ignores the ancient Chinese, and never even mentions the pre-Columbian civilizations like the Olmec and the Maya. It represents maybe half of the ancient world, which means it’s a complete failure as an encyclopedia.
Imagine if I published an encyclopedia of modern nations and left out the all the countries in the North and South American continents? How accurate would that be? So why do we keep on buying things that are not accurate – and worse, teaching them to our kids?
The short answer?
There’s nothing out there.
That’s not completely true – there’s a new history curriculum that’s actually trying to include a variety of civilizations. It’s called Curiosity Chronicles, and it’s a pretty cool curriculum. It’s also a slightly difficult design with an annoying conversational format that I just can’t handle, which is why we’re not using it. It does have a good student handbook full of activities, worksheets, notebook pages, and reading suggestions that can be used outside of the curriculum’s format.
There are also a ton of interesting and deep resources to pull from online. Videos, online textbooks, websites, articles, and so much more! The problem is that you have to do the work and find it. There is no easy “open-and-go” option that I’ve found, which is painful and annoying.
We want the big picture
For most of us, we want to just buy a curriculum and use it. We don’t want to spend endless hours researching the Mauryan and Gupta Dynasties, or the ancient Bronze age cultures in Japan. I don’t want to spend endless hours researching this stuff – but I have to if we’re going to learn it. And I do mean we – because I didn’t learn about this stuff in school either. Which means I’m stuck learning it just to be able to teach it to my kids.
We want the big picture – to learn about the peoples who may technically be classified as “pre-civilization,” but who certainly had a robust, intricate society worth learning about. We want a world view – not a Eurocentric view. We want truth.
If you find this magical unicorn of a curriculum, please let me know. So I can stop researching for hours each night and do what I do best – teach my kids.