Again, Education… (I)

Dmitri Prieto

Resotration work in Old Havana. Photo: Caridad

I appreciate the comments received regarding my article outlining the delicate question of the wall along the US-Australian border.

When I studied in England a couple of years ago, my neighbor in the room next door was a pretty young Northern Irish woman named Laura who worked as an elementary school teacher.  On one occasion I asked her how in such a multicultural city as London the problem of teaching world history to kids of diverse ethnic origins and religious affiliations was approached.

I’m especially interested in universality and perspectives toward it from specific cultures; plus I was fascinated with London’s diversity.

However, Laura’s response both intrigued and shocked me.  My Irish friend explained that teens in London aren’t taught world history per se; instead, they’re given a group of fragments that are taken from the entire group of events recorded in humanity’s history.

The specific groups depend on the cultural backgrounds and the neighborhood in which the school’s located.  This is to say (and may specialists forgive me for the lack of rigor in my example; I’m citing these according to what I’m able to remember), they could be taught something about the Roman Empire and the conquest of the British Islands by the legions, later perhaps some African history followed by a fragment in which the Second World War is explained, and lastly an approach to the conflicts in the Middle East.

I don’t remember the number of fragments, but let us assume that the number is four – period.  To me, I don’t see this as world history, despite how “multicultural” it might seem.  Rather, these are just four different and unconnected histories.

My “English fears” were confirmed when I attended a meeting of left intellectuals at the University of London.  There, they discussed at length the issue of the teaching of history, and it seemed to me that I wasn’t mistaken…

Nonetheless, I don’t venture to speculate on what British kids would think about the previously mentioned wall, but I do indeed expect that the teachers (including my friend) would immediately realize this was nonsense.  However, the teaching of world history today is poor in comparison to what my generation received here in Cuba and in Russia.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

4 thoughts on “Again, Education… (I)

  • World history as taught in my catholic high school pretty much just covers the western world. Little snippets of eastern trade and conflict are added for context. That was the general first year class. From Sophomore and on are focused on the creation of the US, the Constitution/Government process, and as a bonus an option to take US Law. I didn’t take the last one as it would have made my Senior year miserable. Four years of band also made me procrastinate with a lovely 3.5 GPA. I’m now in 2nd year college with deficient units and the only history class I have taken was about the Western Civilization to 1500. It’s was interesting, but it wasn’t what I expected as the class was based heavily on power-points. I do love learning history, it’s just the quality of the presentation that has been my major issue. I also play Medieval 2 Total War with Stainless Steel Mod and Point Blanks Compilation. <— Just want to tell everyone about it. That's all. Gotta find more ways to…

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  • Dear JoE, re: “I do love learning history…” My recommendations: Begin with, H.G. Wells’s two volume “Outline of History.” If you are really ambitious: Will–who started out studying for the priesthood– and Ariel Durant’s 14-volume “Story of Civilization” (which covers Eastern and Western History). The Durants were wonderful writers: witty, knowledgable, in love with their subject, and with genuine sympathy for history’s victims. I’ve only read half way through their opus, and they only arived at the early 19th Century before the Grim Reapper caught up with them! Then of course there is Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the U.S.” Oh, there are so many good histories, going as far back as Herodotus and Thucydides, Tacitus and Seutonius. Also, the best novels of the day probably give a better idea of what it was like to be alive then (e.g. George Elliot’s “Middlemarch,” Chas. Dickens’s “Hard Times,” or “Bleak House,” etc.) “So many books, so…

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  • Actually Dmitri
    I remember some of my history classes from high school back in Cuba and what I mostly remember is that they usually give history a touch to make it look like socialism was the pinnacle of human achievement!
    Something I letter discover was wrong!
    It is usually impossible to go into all the details in history. For example not to long ago I bump into Gibbons Decline and fall of the roman empire. This is a monumental work about everything that came after Augustus etc. So it is very interesting to read it. Since you get to see how an empire decay.
    Probably nobody teaches this probably not even at university level courses so one have to learn this things on your own.

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  • For example I do not remember anything in history from my time in Cuba about Africa other than some little brush on the Pharaoh and some current history with all those regimes that were related at the time with Cuba like Angola and Ethiopia !
    Some how even big parts of Cuban history got re written into something that they were not. I guess everything was with the purpose in mind of give it the socialist touch.

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